I was engaged in the formal process of discerning a call to ordination for over a year. I submitted writing to the commission on ministry, had regular sessions with a spiritual director, and met with generous people from the diocese who were tasked with vetting and supporting those of us in the various states of discernment. I asked friends and colleagues to write recommendations. I went before panels to answer questions. I talked with my family about how things would change and how we would all feel about it if this was my path.
When that phase of discernment concluded and I’d met with the commission for the final time, all that was left to do was wait for their decision.
I was expecting a “yes” or “no,” but instead received what could be described as a “perhaps at some point.” After their own prayer and discernment, they shared they could potentially see me on that path, but that I did not seem certain it was the path I wanted to take. They recommended that I continue discerning on my own, and if the time came that I was sure ordination was my calling, then I should re-engage in the formal process.
It took months for me to let that answer sink in. I felt that I had failed to convey to them how willing I was to follow a formal call to ministry. Did I not communicate effectively? Did they see something deficient in me along the way?
Slowly I began to realize that I had communicated exactly where I was and that their answer was a most insightful one. The truth was right there all along: I was so willing to uproot my life and head down that path, that my willingness was all any of us could see.
Wrestling with this outcome, I had the rather painful realization that I wasn’t able to understand or communicate what I truly wanted in many cases, and that I had gone into the process looking for a formal authority to tell me what to do with my desire to find a new path. From a young age I had been taught that as a woman, I must rely on external direction to tell me what I should want and do. I was taught that it was wrong, even sinful, to trust where my own desires and spirit might guide me.
While pursuing ordination within a church understandably requires the direction and approval of its leadership, the initiation of that path comes from the Spirit directing that person, in alignment with their own longings and gifts. It was upsetting for me to see that as much as I had worked to walk away from the harmful teachings I learned growing up, that I still had a blind spot when it came to truly listening to and acting on my own inner wisdom.
Several months after receiving the decision and working to unpack the subsequent realizations, I wrote the following in my journal:
….getting to what I want feels impossible because it was so deeply instilled in me that selfishness was at the root of such consideration. I learned that I should always be willing, always defer. I learned to try to push myself aside for what I thought God or other people wanted or needed, or what I was told or expected to do.
What is coming to light for me is that willingness and deferring are hollow offerings. They lack life, generosity, and vulnerability. The life-giving, generous way of being is a beautiful offering of myself. It is me, showing up, wanting to be where I am, to give, engage, and create. As someone recently pointed out to me, “‘What do I want?’ is actually a profoundly spiritual question.” I sense this is true, and I want to live into where the answers take me, even as I am still trying to untangle from all the old ways of thinking and responding.
That was over a year ago and I’m still in the midst of this reckoning. There are many layers to the subconscious patterns that keep me stuck in diminishing mindsets and habits. I still find myself sometimes saying a half-hearted yes to things out of a willingness to do them, rather than taking the time to discern where I can best show up with my whole-heart. There are times I don’t act or speak up, even when I know exactly what I want to do or say, due to the old thoughts that creep in to tell me that I should defer. However, I want to be intentional in my choices and pursuits, so I keep doing the work to untangle from these patterns.
I don’t know if this will take me back around to more discernment toward ordination, but I’ll always be grateful for what I learned in that time and how it has helped me grow in understanding myself. What I do know is that I am unwilling to remain in those old ways of being when there are so many more beautiful, spacious, truthful ways to live into who I’m meant to be.