Ten and a half years ago, I left a career in engineering to pursue a call into full time vocational ministry. It’s been a long journey since then, moving through 3 different churches and 3 different denominations. As I look at myself and who I am today, I wouldn’t be where I am had I not gone through all of that landscape.
Along the way, I’ve learned to ask questions and try to be as self-reflective as possible. There is no way for us to grow if we are unwilling to ask ourselves questions about who we are, what we are doing, and where we are going. If we are unwilling to ask these questions, it’s helpful to have others in our lives who can ask those questions of us. If we have neither the self-reflective capacity to ask questions nor the friends who will probe and dig into who we are, then we will most likely be relegated to mediocrity and sameness.
The thing about self-reflection and difficult question asking is that it’s uncomfortable. Sometimes, it downright hurts. When we ask difficult questions, we may not be ready for the answers that they will turn up. We may find that there is something hiding beneath the surface of who we are that we weren’t aware of or that we had, consciously or unconsciously, been successful at hiding. When we unearth these things, we have a choice as to whether to keep them unearthed and investigate them or to bury them again, hoping that we can avoid them for longer.
I know that I have a personality that can come across as abrasive. I have strong opinions and convictions and I am not afraid to voice them. Over the years, I have learned better and more effective ways to voice those opinions and convictions. There are ways to express strong feelings without offending and turning others off. It’s taken me a long time to come to that place of realization and I know that there is a wake of wounded people behind me, ravaged by some amount of my own immaturity and inability to self-actualize.
Early on, before I had left engineering, I was looking to find my place in full time vocational ministry. I was raised a Baptist but was a denominational “mutt” as I had moved across the denominational spectrum. So, I tried to paint with a broad brush in seeking out possibilities. I began the journey of seeking what was most important for me, what was essential and what was non-essential. In that respect, it became a learning process.
I also began to understand this concept of personal interaction and how I came across to people. My wife and I flew to Florida to interview at a church and had a great weekend. We interacted well with the pastor and his wife. We interacted well with the people in the ministry area where we would be serving. We began making some connections. We were thrilled and yet nervous when we were called to come back for a second visit.
In the weeks leading up to the second visit, things began to change. I had planned out everything that would be done that weekend, the music that I would do, the arrangements of that music, and the general details that would make my life easier once I got there. Days before our trip, I got a phone call from one of the music people asking me to change things here and there. The changes were not insignificant, at least not to me. They varied the arrangements and instruments in such a way that my anxiety rose. I was frustrated and disappointed. In my youthfulness and arrogance, I probably said some things that I should not have and my attitude most likely came across as less than accommodating.
Needless to say, the second trip was nothing like the first. Everyone felt distant. We couldn’t get the pastor’s ear for the entire weekend that we were there. Although we went house hunting while we were there, it was all for naught as the pastor and team went “radio silent” when we returned home. As much as I tried to get answers as to what the next step would be, my probing was always returned with silence, no answer.
One day, I came home to a message on my answering machine from the pastor telling me that they were taking a different direction. He thanked me for my pursuit, but the message seemed very cold and calculated. I was shocked and stunned. At the time, I’m not sure that I had enough wisdom and experience to realize my own blame in the process.
Regardless of my lack of self-reflection and self-actualization, I had enough insight to write the pastor a letter requesting that he help me in my forward growth. I wanted to know what I could do differently, how I could change things, what growth areas that I might work on to ready myself for the “next time” that I would find myself in this process. I got no reply and was met once again with “radio silence.”
I was so frustrated by this and situations like this still frustrate me to this day. Why would someone not be willing to help another person in their growth? Why would honest questions and searches for betterment and self-improvement result in silence? Especially in the church, where we constantly seek to be conformed to the image of Christ, wouldn’t it seem likely that we would want our brothers and sisters to grow, particularly when they are asking for help in that transformation and sanctification process?
To this day, I still don’t understand why someone would walk away from a situation without saying a word. I struggle with people leaving a relationship, a business, or a church without telling someone, anyone, why they are leaving. How is that helpful? How can someone improve if they don’t know the places where they need to improve?
I know that there are reasons behind it, and some (if not many) of those reasons can lie within me. It could be my own attitude, my own story that is coloring the situation. I can tell story after story of how I have had to come back to a situation with a renewed attitude and a self-awareness that was not there before. At the same time, if people really care for you and love you, then they should want what is best for you, and sometimes that means pointing out some of those blind spots and growth areas that you might not be aware of yourself.
Ultimately, I am thankful for what God has done, even in the difficult situations. I am thankful that I have friends and loved ones around me who can say hard things to me. I am thankful that I am on my way to becoming a different person. I’m not perfect, ask anyone who really knows me, they will tell you straight up how far short that I fall, but I am in the process, moving towards something.
May we all seek out ways to grow and be blessed with the people who can help us out in that process all along the way!