This guest post is part of the Good Ways blog series, a collection of stories and practices for finding God in hardship.
Ministry was not supposed to break me.
Ministry was supposed to point people to Jesus. Ministry was supposed to be my call, the place that took my strengths and weaknesses and used them for Kingdom purposes. Ministry was supposed to be the place I grew old in.
Ministry – with all its bells and whistles and the hard parts that nobody but people in ministry talk about – was my identity. It was, in a nutshell, me.
And then I had a baby.
Up until that point, I swore, over and over again, that I wouldn’t be one of “those women” – you know, the kind that leaves the traditional workforce to stay home with her child. Instead, I would work full-time, which in my context, meant that I would continue as director of a local youth outreach ministry. But as a woman in (that particular) ministry, this also meant I would take my newborn son along with me everywhere: to coffee shops and to the office, to local cafes for breakfast dates with potential donors, and to the high school campus for afterschool tutoring sessions.
Within a week of claiming myself more than capable of such double-duty responsibilities, and trying my hardest to be all things to all men (and to all babies, namely my own), I knew it was time to hang my cape up to dry.
Ministry superhero, I most surely was not. So, I gave notice.
I gazed at my baby lying on the floor of my office, and said, “We’re really going to do this! We’re going to step into a new adventure. Mama’s going to take care of you, and she’s going to become a speaker and a writer. And, we’re not going to be so tired anymore!”
I was full of exclamation points.
But in the midst of excitement, over what felt like the best decision, the right decision, the clear calling out of what I’d been called into in the first place, tears began to creep in.
Who would I be when nobody looked to me as a leader anymore?
Who would I be when being a Professional Christian and leading others in the way of Jesus wasn’t my job anymore?
Who would I be when it was just my baby boy and me, when nobody read the words I painstakingly posted into the vast wasteland of the Internet?
That’s when the tears started to flow – and that’s when the tears continued to flow for the next year, as I wrestled with questions of identity, as I sought to figure out who I was apart from a ministry title.
It’s easy, as I type these words and as I read over what I’ve written, to discount my own story. It’s easy for me to say, “Well, leaving a job in ministry and stepping into full-time motherhood and becoming a speaker and a writer isn’t really grounds for suffering.” But then I think about how I wrestled with God, how I questioned him time and time again, for my loneliness, for my identity, for my calling. I think about how I looked for Christ’s presence, when I questioned whether I’d made the biggest mistake of my life, when darkness seemed to pervade a previously happy, shiny, ignorant me.
And it’s then I know that suffering is a part of my story, too.
For me, healing began to enter the story when I sat with my words. I suppose if you don’t call yourself a writer, it’s easy to read that sentence, and feel like you’re sitting in a too-small desk, staring at the black board in ninth grade English.
But power exists, for every single one of us, when we commune with our words.
I started writing out my story – a tale of grit and glory, rooted in the name of Jesus. Sometimes, after writing pages of words, I’d read over a paragraph, and a single sentence would catch my eye.
What do I really mean in this sentence? Why did I write these words?
Even though no one saw my journal, I oftentimes found myself writing what I thought other people wanted me to write and feel and believe. So, I began to press into truth, into the truth that was mine alone. I began to read between the lines, between lines I’d written and created in the first place. I began to let myself feel anger and sadness, to feel the weight of leaving, the loss of friendships, the hardship of transition. And I began to find what I really thought and believed and felt, apart from the ministry that birthed me and that I’d called home for nearly twenty years by that point.
I suppose you could say that writing saved me.
Maybe, in places of theological certainty, we change the sentence to point to God. We change the sentence to more reasonable declarations that God found me and met me and comforted me in my grief when and as I found my words. And that, too, is true.
Whatever it is, perhaps this is your moment to step into the creative act of writing, to find and to discover and to reunite with your Creator through the holy act of pen and paper. No one has to see it. No one has to read it. No one has to read the depths of your soul engrained onto the page in front of you.
But I bet, along the way, you’ll be found in a new way. You’ll find a small amount of healing, a teaspoon of comfort for your suffering, when you enter into this creative act.
At least, that’s how it was for me.