Post Author: Sarah Kingsbery
I am 29 years old. I am one of the youngest people at my seminary. This is not a second career for me. Memories of papers and lengthy reading assignments are still fresh. School has defined all but a few years of my life.
I am 29 years old. My fellow religion majors in college have already finished their M.Div., been ordained, found a place to serve. Some have started families. I never thought I would stray from that same straightforward path.
For a while, I stuck to my plan. Despite the burnout my senior year of college. Despite the doubts and dread. I graduated. I spent a summer at home. Then I moved a thousand miles away to start seminary.
I had pledged to myself that grad school would be different. I would study to learn, to grow, and not just to pass the next test. I wouldn’t let my perfectionism in the classroom get in the way of true education. Then the scholarship changed all that. Maintaining a 3.75 GPA meant no room for learning, just succeeding.
As I struggled to find a space for myself among my classmates, as I tried to reinvent myself as someone I wasn’t, I prayed for a boat to come so I could run away like Jonah. I told myself I would keep going but began to plan to teach instead of preach. Began to look for a way out. In class I talked about theology and the God of the Bible but my soul and my heart were so disconnected, it all felt like an intellectual exercise, not reality.
In the midst of this spiritual void, my heart burned with guilt, with fear. The morning phone calls from home telling me Dad was back in the hospital became more frequent and more alarming.
The end of my second semester I had a panic attack. Failed to finish a final paper, reduced to tears in the professor’s office, begging for an incomplete.
Shortly thereafter I went home for Father’s Day, two weeks at home. From the airport we went straight to the hospital. It wasn’t long before the news finally came: the cancer really was back. My trip home extended for two more weeks. More bad news came. I went back to school only long enough to pack.
The boat had come, but so had the storm.
A semester off became a year. A year waiting for the stem cell transplant. A year of being unable to walk into a church without being overwhelmed by guilt and fear. The place that was once a refuge became an emotional warzone, an ever-present reminder that I had failed. The only future I had imaged for my life had fallen down around me. So for a time I ran from all vestiges of that path – God, church, school – scared and burned out.
The year waiting was followed by a year of treatment. Then a slow road to recovery.
No longer needed as a caregiver, I tried the “real world.” Maybe, someday, I would go back for my M.Div. No time soon. Give me a cubicle instead of a pulpit. I was too damaged for ministry.
So I spent my time in the belly of the fish. Hearing the voices of mentors in the darkness. They saw my running for what it was. Affirmed the gifts I had come to deny. Healed the hurt and patiently waited as I learned to pray again, to serve again.
Before I knew what was happening, the fish plopped me back on land and pointed me towards the open door. A congregation that would love and support me. An online program, led by people I trusted. The opportunity to follow my call again, right where I was.
God must have known what I did not. I hadn’t been ready, but I wasn’t hopeless. God granted me time to recover, to refresh, to renew. A time of hardship and growth, time to “remember the Lord.”
In the end, I took a detour, a painful side trip. One that has left me feeling desperately behind.
And yet, I acknowledge and give thanks that I was not left to wander the wilderness for 40 years.
Though I struggle daily with where I should be versus where I am, I am reminded of one thing.
It is all in God’s time.
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/nomadic_lass/6768979137/”>Nomadic Lass</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>cc</a>
Sarah is a graduate of Transylvania University in Lexington, KY and is currently working on her M.Div. at Lexington Theological Seminary. She is serving as the Seminary Intern at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Charlotte while under care of the North Carolina Region of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). If all goes well, she will be graduating in May 2014. She is still waiting for God to tell her what is in store for her after that!