For those ofyou who have families of your own, you may very well recognize the blessing they are in your life. While these relationships can require a great deal of patience, grace and love at times, they can also be very rewarding and love-filled. In fact, because of my family, I have had a difficult time listening to God.
About three years ago, shortly after my mom passed away, I kept hearing messages about sacrifice. At the time it wasn’t clear who or what was to be sacrificed but that a sacrifice would be required nonetheless. I came to realize that it involved my spiritual walk. Beyond that, I was clueless.
Not long afterward, a training opportunity was presented to me to become a lay speaker for my church which, among other things, would allow me to serve as pulpit supply. While I don’t clamor for opportunities to speak publicly, there was something about this invitation I felt led to pursue. About three months later, my pastor asked if I would bring the message at our two services one Sunday while he was traveling. I did end up speaking and knew almost immediately that pastoral ministry was what I was called to do.
Despite this sense of call, I kept hitting the brakes when it came to my family. I felt it was okay for me to make sacrifices but how could I ask my family to do that? At the time, we had two young children–ages 3 and 5–for whom we had waited countless years to hold in our arms. Understanding that children at this tender age need special love and nurturing, how could I step away from that to pursue what seemed like a selfish desire on my part? Also, I had been married 21 years at that point and clearly recalled the vow I made to my husband at the altar. How could I provide a balance between what it would mean to pursue several years of study to become a pastor (and an itinerant one at that) yet remain faithful to the vows and responsibilities I had as a wife and mother? If that weren’t enough, I had been in the workforce for a number of years. Could we manage on one income? After all, we had bills to pay just like everyone else.
With all the questions floating around in my head, I realized that these were decisions I couldn’t make on my own. To help me sort things out, I began candidacy studies (a discernment process within my denomination) to help me crystallize this call as well as to dig deep on this ministry-family struggle I was encountering. I spent several sessions with my mentor trying to understand what was best for my family. Should I forgo ordained ministry and continue my volunteer bible study teaching? Should I consider a lay staff role at a church? Should I just forget it all?
As time went on, it became evident that I couldn’t ignore the call God had placed on my life. But, despite all my longing for answers, I still couldn’t reconcile how I could “do” schooling and ministry and still meet my commitments. Should I take an alternate track toward education, attending weekend classes a few times per year? Should I pursue seminary part-time? Were there seminaries that I could commute to or that offered online programs? Could we afford it? It seemed like every time I turned around I had more and more questions.
Finally, I surrendered. After a lot of prayer, consultation, and a nearly two-year-in-the-making candidacy process, it finally dawned on me that it wasn’t my responsibility to make those decisions for my family. Just as I had relied on God to speak into my life about his plans for me, I had to trust that he would do the same for my family. And, over time, he did just that–in ways that I could not even begin to imagine.
My husband had always been supportive of me and, in time, he came to his own understanding of what this change might mean for our family and for him personally. He not only encouraged me to pursue seminary but offered to relocate to do so–this from a man who had lived in the same area all of his life. I knew then he was called, too. Within a matter of two months, God paved the way for us to respond: I applied and was admitted to seminary, we listed and sold our house, we found another one in our price range, the girls were transferred to a new school, a scholarship was provided by the seminary to provide much-needed support and we found child care for those times that my husband would need to be gone for his job while I was at school.
It’s been said that God is interested not so much in our abilities as in our availability. In other words, he’ll provide the gifts and graces. We just need to say, “Here I am, Lord. Send me.”