Recently, I sat down to breakfast with a man I have come to call a friend. It had been a while since we had talked, but like every other time when we chance across one another’s path, it was as if only a few days had passed.
Upon ordering our meals, my friend rolled up his shirt sleeves, shifting his weight onto his elbows as he leaned forward.
“How are you doing?”
For most people when they ask this question, they usually are looking for an answer pertaining to one’s emotional or physical health. And, while my friend was interested in those categories, he and I are both men of faith.
He, a pastor finishing up the ordination process, and I, a college student studying ministry for youth and their families, often also imply how a person is doing in his or her walk of faith when we ask that question. But there is a loophole that I’ve come to notice when it comes to answering the question: most people are satisfied when you can rattle off all sorts of activities which you have been doing and not once mention how you are.
My friend has noticed this too, which is something I appreciate and slightly hate about our conversations. He calls me out on trying to weasel out of the uncomfortable truth of the matter. Once, I thought a good Christian was defined by how many Jesus-themed pies they had their thumbs in. Now, I realize that it’s more about knowing and abiding in the person of Christ.
My friend waited, sipping on the mug of coffee which had been perched precariously on the edge of the table as I shifted in my seat.
“To be honest, I feel dead – like nothing’s going on inside. I feel totally unqualified for ministry and I don’t know where my life is going right now.”
And in the moment when I was expecting what the traditional confession script would call for a sympathetic or concerned look, instead, he raised an eyebrow over the rim of the mug. Placing his coffee back down on the table, he smiled slightly, as if he knew exactly from where I was coming.
He paused to focus on the cup in front of him for a moment, turning the mug so that the handle pointed at a ninety-degree angle from either of us before looking at me again.
“Now we’re getting somewhere. Tell me about it.”
I used to do a lot of things in the name of Christ. I used to write a blog, not unlike this one. I helped pastor a church’s youth group. I used to lead a Bible Study. I had hoped that in doing all these things, I would unconsciously find myself becoming more like Christ and seeking further union with the Father through Christ as mediated through the work of the Holy Spirit. But I’m learning that nothing other than rot comes from “leaving” most things up to the work of the unconscious when faith is involved. It’s like having a person trust in their capability to sleepwalk up an escalator. In the meanwhile, they’ll sleep at the bottom until that point arrives.
Part of the problem is that we are lured into thinking that every one of us is in a good community until we ask for accountability or vulnerability. Most of our understanding of friendship has been informed by social media – that people are merely a sum of their pics and status updates. Our understanding of community is likewise stunted.
I used to do all sorts of things in Christ’s name, but I think I’ve been guilty this whole time of taking his name in vain. After entering college, I stopped blogging for my own sake because I thought the opinions of others mattered more to me. After helping with the pastoring at a youth group for a couple of years, I stopped seeing my nights working with teenagers as a blessing and more of a burden. I became a martyr in my own eyes while my friends began to pale in comparison.
My problem is the same problem that has plagued us since Adam: hubris. The problem with hubris is that it is a necrotic infection. It eats away at the healthy tissue within the body while leaving the exterior untouched for as long as possible. I don’t think I need wonder how Lucifer is still able to masquerade as an angel of light; it’s the inside that is dead and hollow. The outside is too concerned with being a validation of its own way of doing things to itself to care.
I still think that half the time, it’s better for people who study anything theologically-related to keep their majors under wraps. This is because when people do find out, we theologically-minded individuals become lepers to an extent. Nobody thinks that we need as much soul care as everyone else since we have enough of our ducks in a row to think we want to be pastors. The truth is, we are just as frail and weak and forgetful as the next person. Martin Luther once said we (all) need to hear the Gospel every day because we forget it every day. Ministry majors and pastors included.
I chose to leave vocational ministry for some time because I realize that I am at the brunt of John 15 – apart from Christ, I can do nothing. It’s time to start the Father to prune once more as I seek his lead through prayer, Scripture, and journaling.
I looked at my friend, searching his face for any sign of emotion as he processed what I had said.
“How’s that for how I’m doing?” I inquired.
His eyes focused as he glanced in my direction. “Sounds like you have a lot in store for this next season. That’s one heck of an autopsy over breakfast.”
I laughed as I began to finish the corned beef hash on my plate. “Yeah.” I ventured. “I would hope so.”
Thomas Merton once said that it was hope that emptied our hands that we might work with them again. And it is hope that drives me into this new season of living into what it means to follow Christ.
So be it. Amen.