“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Nothing causes more anxiety than this single question. It’s not a lack of ambition, focus or ability and I don’t suffer from prolonged adolescence or a case of Peter Pan Syndrome. On the contrary, my adulthood is completely in tact. I have a steady job, I pay my bills, and I even do my own laundry. What concerns me about this question is that I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, and that’s okay.
You would think transparency such as this wouldn’t find itself at the opening of a grad school application essay, however my lack of direction has little to do with me and everything to do with God.
Being an incredibly driven person, I thought I had life figured out at 16. As a high school honors student, my fellow National Honors Society nerds and I would spend our lunch tucked away in the library reading, outdoing each other’s intellect, or debating Schrodinger’s cat. Each of us had developed a strict roadmap for the future long before we had our driver’s licenses. Along with my peers, I too had a plan and left no room for detours or exits.
While my friends were dreaming of careers in politics and medicine, my 16 year old self had aspirations of going into youth ministry: leading young souls to Christ, taking kids on mission trips, and feeding the homeless peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I had been touched by my youth leaders and yearned to have the same impact on the Church. While my budding passion for ministry was impressive, rather than entertaining the possibility that God may have a different path for me, my adolescent stubbornness was determined to stick to “the plan”.
College was a time of enlightenment and change. Attending a conservative Lutheran school had its challenges, but there were opportunities for me to try different things and learn new skills. I played intramural volleyball, joined the handbell choir, and dabbled in public speaking. My gender prohibited me from preaching in chapel, but I was allowed to speak at our student led worship service. After encouragement and coddling from friends, I signed up and prepared my first message.
I’m not sure what Scripture I used, or what I even said, but I will always remember the joy I had while speaking. During the short time I was allotted, the world melted away and the only words that came from my lips were from God Himself. I was His mouthpiece, spouting ideas and thoughts that came out of nowhere and somehow, strangely, blessed my peers. I was sharing God’s story and I loved it.
I registered for Advanced Public Speaking, downloaded podcasts from renowned preachers like Billy Graham, Rob Bell, and Charles Swindoll, and incorporated their style of speaking with my own. I also tailored my messages to the lives of my friends, applying Scripture to their struggles, offering Biblical encouragement. As I look back on this time, I feel such warmth, knowing I was being used by God in such a uniquely simple way – to tell His story and help others see theirs.
Graduation flew by and soon “the plan” was in motion. Ministry became my world but it wasn’t as I had expected. After leading young souls to Christ, taking kids on mission trips and feeding the homeless peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, something wasn’t right. The life I had planned long ago didn’t fit anymore, the Lutheran doctrine I was raised with no longer made sense, and my ministry became my burden. Concurrently, conflict began to stir in my congregation and I was stuck with a decision: stay and be fired or resign and leave.
Opposite of “the plan”, I left and it felt like I was abandoning my calling, my spiritual family, my childhood faith, and my God. I felt forgotten by a loving Father and forsaken by a loving church. I was completely broken, questioning my faith and vocation.
I spent a summer healing, mourning my calling in youth ministry, and reading Scripture without the bias of human religion or denominational doctrine. I dove into the New Testament to learn the truth about baptism and grace, and Joshua 1:9 became my mantra: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
In utter humility I finally released “the plan” and gave it to the Lord. Since, He has shown me bits and pieces of His plan and I’m able to confidently say that I have a new calling to share God’s story and help others see where their story intersects with His. I don’t know exactly what this looks like yet, but the MATC Interdisciplinary Studies Track is the best place to begin. Not only will I gain a deeper understanding of the Word, where text, soul and culture meet, but I will also discover how my story will continue and how God will change my heart as I march towards the precipice of this new and great adventure.
I’ve tried to figure it all out. I’ve tried to color inside the lines and avoid swerving outside the lanes of my carefully planned out road. I’ve also struggled with the nomadicness of not knowing which way to go, but I’ve made the decision to obediently follow God down this path, and now have unsurpassed peace.
As I finish these last thoughts and anticipate the journey ahead, hopefully towards The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology, I am content. While knowing my future and having it all figured out has been a source of comfort for me in the past, now I take comfort in the not knowing of life. After all, God is the Master of the unknown, especially my unknown.