The Candid Clergywoman: Intersection of Doubt

CAUTION: This post contains a lot of honesty. It will remind us that preachers have belly buttons, too. In reflecting on my own doubts, my prayer is that instead of running from our questions we will run to the One who leads us through the questions.

Yesterday, I drove up to an intersection in Jackson where I considered leaving pastoral ministry.

Since I'm currently reading Barbara Brown Taylor's memoir, Leaving Church, it was not too surprising to recall the conversation that I'd had with myself and God at this intersection a few years ago. It had been a dreary, cold day. I'd been crying to the point that I had to wear my glasses instead of contact lenses. I was weary. There was a large middle school at the traffic light, and I desperately wanted to steer my car alongside the yellow buses. I wanted to go into the office, ask if they were hiring math instructors, and find out what I needed to do to become a teacher. I began rationalizing, telling myself that I would "make a bigger difference in people's lives" as a teacher than as a pastor.

What had happened to lead to such doubt about my calling? I was in my 20s, a fairly-recent seminary graduate who loved her work in the Church. I had known for years that God had called me to full-time ministry in The United Methodist Church. I felt like I was the last person who should be questioning her call. Yet, I was.

If you are reading this and thinking that there will be a juicy, tell-all story of who or what made the preacher cry, think again. The circumstances leading to that rainy day at the middle school's intersection really don't matter now. In a difficult time period, I was allowing those circumstances to control my emotions. They were eating away at me, exposing me to doubt and uncertainty. This led to a number of misunderstandings.

I mistook discouragement for dismay.

I mistook burning out slowly for burning out completely.

I mistook challenges for career changers.

I mistook God's testing for self-fought trials.

Thankfully, I was surrounded by family and mentors who encouraged me to see the bigger picture: "You now rejoice in this hope, even if it’s necessary for you to be distressed for a short time by various trials. This is necessary so that your faith may be found genuine. (Your faith is more valuable than gold, which will be destroyed even though it is itself tested by fire.) Your genuine faith will result in praise, glory, and honor for you when Jesus Christ is revealed" (I Peter 1:6-7, Common English Bible). My doubts seemed life-altering, but they really weren't. When we find ourselves in even a bit of darkness, we fear the extreme of not seeing the light again. The writer of I Peter reminds us of the fleeting nature of so many of life's trials, especially when seen in eternity's light.

In the years that have passed since I stopped at that red light, and as I sat there once again this week, I was grateful for its fleetingness that seemed to last forever. While I don't know what it's like to doubt my faith in God, I see now the many forms that doubt can take in our spiritual lives, vocations, and faith. Such uncertainty is something that all of us have experienced or will experience.

Beginning on Easter Sunday, and continuing through Pentecost, St. Luke UMC and Shipman Chapel will explore this theme of doubt in a new sermon series. Beginning at the tomb that Jesus left empty, we encounter people who desperately wanted to believe--but sometimes couldn't. We see people who can't yet believe in a resurrection because of the trauma and grief of watching their friend, Jesus, die. We hear the honest concerns of Jesus' closest followers who feel betrayed by seemingly unfulfilled promises. Perhaps these episodes of uncertainty are opportunities to "keep on driving" through intersections of doubt.

As we continue our journey towards the cross this Lenten season, let us not deny our misgivings. Instead, let us examine them prayerfully. But let us not give in so easily to the resignation of doubt. Wrestle with it. Live with it. And let us be open to how God might sharpen and refine us in life's uncertainties to make us more faithful and patient. And as for the teenagers in that middle school, may they be grateful that this preacher did not get in the school bus line that day!

all good things to each of you,
Pastor Darian