I had a lovely conversation this morning with someone who is thinking and wondering about public ministry in the church, in some way or form. I have a lot of these conversations, and though right now I’m not doing it officially, I am consulting, you might say, in the business of discernment.
Discernment is a strange word, and a bit of a churchy in-word, so I’ll explain what I mean. It’s really just trying to figure out where you are supposed to be at any given time. It might mean figuring out if you’re going to be a pastor-pastor, or a youth minister, or a person who isn’t on any official list but who ministers to the poor or hurting in some fashion. It also means seeking what would be the best for you, for the church, and for your family, in no particular order. It’s usually about vocation, but not always.
Discernment is really hard. And I had one of these conversations with another person years ago, at that camp that I mention all the time. She said, “I think I might be called to be a pastor, but I want to be a writer, and if I go to seminary, I can’t be a writer.”
My jaw sort of hit the floor, because sometimes it seems like all I DO and all I DID in seminary was write! Thankfully, I love to both write and talk, which are what you’ve gotta do to survive in this job.
At that point, I think it seemed to her that once you make a decision to go to seminary (or any other career path), you’re done. You’ve made your life choice, and God stops speaking or you stop trying to figure out what’s next.
And it came to me, something very important. YOU’RE NEVER DONE. You’re never done discerning! There’s always something else down the path, and even if you figure out that you’re supposed to be a pastor or a writer or a mom or a professional dolphin trainer (I STILL HAVE TIME!), there’s more to be revealed down the path. Every few years, I’ve had to discern again where I need to go, what I need to do, even if the answer was just to stay where I was and enjoy being there. Most successful people in entertainment, business, or religion would probably tell you that they re-evaluate and discern often! (hello, Madonna!)
I think that’s what makes life great, and interesting, and challenging, that there’s always something else on the horizon when we can reach out for it, to challenge ourselves to discern yet again where and to what we are being called.
Whatever the pathway holds next for you, know that the path itself is the beauty, and discerning where it goes happens one step at a time.