I know I’m not alone.
You may be out there, somewhere, wondering, “Well damn, where do I go from here?”
I feel you.
For over a decade, I have been working towards becoming, and working as a Unity minister. I actually began taking prerequisite classes for the ministerial path in 2006, started at Unity Institute (seminary) online in 2009, was ordained and began working full-time in 2013. And earlier this month, with the arrival of a registered letter, my world was changed. My employment contract had been terminated. It felt like 10 years of sacrifice, of studying, of working for half salary to help Unity survive, of pushing hard every day of the week to nurture a spiritual community to vitality, had been for nothing.
It was all over.
Except it ain’t.
You see, the truth that it can be incredibly difficult for all of us – including me – to believe, is that we are not defined by what others think about us, what others say about us, or what others do to us. Nor are we defined by our current means of employment (although in America’s capitalistic, market-driven culture, that has become the accepted norm). We are our innermost selves in expression, and that self cannot successfully be hidden (at least not for long), nor can it be artificially altered from without. Who we are shines through, in the end.
I am a minister.
I will minister.
It may not look like I expected it to look. It may be primarily in the quiet, dark moments of need – a hand held in silence in the midst of a crisis, being present to listen, encouraging someone else’s growth in a thousand ways both explicit and implicit. But that letter did not have the power to tell me I am no longer a minister, and it does not have the power to keep me from ministering.
I’m not the only one. The holidays are a time when so many of us must take stock of the difficult place we are standing: staring at a loss we’ve suffered, a situation we prayed would turn out differently, a relationship in tatters.
So for those of us who are currently enduring the painful amputation of a job, a marriage, a friendship, or any other situation or relationship which has helped to give us purpose and meaning, what is the response? What do we do?
Item One: we allow ourselves to grieve. There are many sources to assist in walking through the grief process, and I will not parrot them here. The two things I think most important about this are that we allow ourselves to genuinely grieve, without attempting to “spiritually bypass” the situation with the rainbows and unicorn farts of mindless optimism, and that we don’t get stuck somewhere in the process, but keep the process going until we are all the way through. We don’t get stuck in denial. We don’t fixate on anger. We don’t wallow in depression. We don’t revisit bargaining over and over again, vainly trying to “make a deal” that finally works. We keep on moving through them all, until we arrive at acceptance. There is no way around true grief. There is only the tangled, often torturous, path through it. But that path yields diamonds of starlight and beautiful insights that can be achieved no other way.
Item Two: we allow ourselves time to heal, assess, and seek direction. No matter what the circumstance, we cannot avoid experiencing similar situations if we do not process and learn the lesson of those extremely painful events in which we find ourselves. Victimhood and the external placing of blame are natural thoughts and feelings, and may lead us to some appropriate legal or other remedies or restitutions that may be necessary for closure in a given circumstance. And, it is absolutely vital that we ascertain the lesson in the AFGO (Another F****** Growth Opportunity, as we used to say in seminary) so that we may avoid the “opportunity” of learning it yet again. We also understand that each of us may need to learn something different from the same situation, and to heal in a different way. The lesson that my soul carried away from a crisis may be a different lesson than your soul internalized.
Item Three: we keep going. We don’t give up on love because someone breaks our heart. We don’t give up on our dreams because someone closes a door. And in my case, I don’t give up on ministry because the lay leaders of one church decide they don’t want me to be their minister. As cliché as it sounds, if we don’t give up on life; if we don’t give up on the universe, It doesn’t give up on us. We keep putting one foot in front of the other, doing the next right thing, and we keep doing it one day at a time.
Item Four (and last for today): we make friends with the unknown. Most of us (maybe all of us) are thinly-disguised control addicts. We like to know what is coming next; we like to have plans and pre-planned alternatives; we like to think we are in control of the happenstances of life. But in these times when we have been dealt a serious blow, that desire for control can not only exacerbate our pain, it can cripple our future. If we can bravely challenge the darkness of infinite possibility, then the light of positive probability will most certainly welcome us home somewhere down the road.
When I arrived in Birmingham five years ago with my (then) wife, Christine, we affirmed over and over again that we would create a thriving marriage and a thriving ministry. Five years later, I have a thriving marriage, but it’s not to Christine; in the wake of a heart-breaking divorce, I somehow managed to keep my heart open, and I have been rewarded beyond my wildest dreams with my marriage to Laura. And that still, small voice inside tells me that if I continue to keep my heart and mind open, there is a thriving ministry in my future here in Birmingham, as well.
Whatever sort of straits you find yourself in; whatever you may have lost; whatever it is that ended before you were ready to have it end, just know this: you are not alone. And if you let yourself grieve, take the time to learn the lesson, keep going, and make friends with the unknown, then beyond your wildest dreams can come true. And if you need someone to talk to about it, reach out. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we can walk this road together.
With much love and many blessings,