Faith reflections: Uncertain times, uncertain faith
by Katie Brantner
In the course of one year, I moved from Kansas back to Pennsylvania, graduated from seminary, got married, and received my first call. My first few months in ministry I felt completely overwhelmed by all of the changes in my life. While the changes were exciting and something I had been looking forward to for a long time, there came the point when I felt lost.
I grew up in the church. I thought I had a rock solid faith. That was until I put on my stole for one of the first times to lead worship and I began to doubt and wonder how strong my faith really was. Could I actually preach and lead people in worshipping God? During those first times leading worship, I almost felt like I was playing “dress up.” I felt like a little kid trying on her mom’s high heels just to see what it would feel like to be an adult. There were people sitting in the congregation who had been Lutheran for longer than I have been alive. What could I possible say to them as they experienced some of the most heartbreaking and devastating times in their life? What could I do for the spouse who was watching a husband or wife die after a long battle with cancer? What could I possibly do to help someone making the decision whether or not to move a parent into a nursing facility?
During that period in my life, I felt lost because my closest friends moved away. These three were the ones I counted on during seminary–they helped me through the candidacy process, coursework, exams, and challenges I faced during those four years. They were the friends I celebrated with when life was wonderful and the friends I could sit with and just talk. They were such a large part of my life and now they were hundreds of miles away. I felt alone and lost. I was not sure who I could talk to and trust–or even just go to the movies with. When you begin to question where your life is taking you, you wanted your closest friends by your side helping and supporting you.
I also entered into this time in my life as a newlywed. It was exciting and I was happy, but it also was a really confusing time for me. Trying to figure how to live with someone else and what it meant to be married, not to mention how do we pay bills or who takes out the trash. These were all extra stresses I was not expecting. I never thought I would get married, so I never really considered what it would mean to be in ministry and in a marriage and how they would work together. I was unsure of what my expectations were, as well as what my husband’s expectations were of me as his wife.
Spinning in circles
The ways that I used to be able to find comfort in my faith, the places and people who I could count on to help me through my struggles weren’t around me anymore. I had grown up and entered into a new phase in life, and my faith would also have to grow along with me.
It was terrifying for me. I felt as though I already had so many changes in my life, the last change I would want would be for my faith in God to change. Why would my faith have to change? Not only was I struggling with this new phase in life, I was wondering if I would ever be able to be strong in my faith again.
I began to ask friends what they were doing to grow in their faith. I asked others how they experienced God or how they managed to survive their first year in ministry. I started going out in the world, spending time in the woods or on walks looking for signs of God around me. I put my faith as a priority in my life, even though I knew how I experienced and expressed my faith would have to change. I started looking for things that seemed to interest me and brought me comfort.
I went back to those Bible stories I loved as a child, especially the story of Moses, because I felt as though I could relate to his uncertainty when God was calling him to go and lead even though he felt under-qualified. A passage that I continued to read over and over again was from the book of Exodus. Exodus 3:10 begins with Moses saying to God, “O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” Then the Lord said to him, “Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?”
In reading that text of Moses’ call, I found comfort in knowing that God can and does equip us for the work set before us, even if we are lost in how we are going to do it. Just when I thought I did not have any friends close by, I found a group of young clergy women in my synod that became a new support system for me. When I felt as though I was not good enough to be a pastor, people would thank me for the ways I helped them in their time of need. In case I needed a reminder of the call I have received, I hung my Letter of Call in my office. When I struggled with what it meant to be a wife, I felt welcomed into an unofficial club of married people. I could relate to what other married couples would say about their lives and what they were experiencing as husband and wife.
Trusting in God
Slowly but surely, I began to feel like the pieces of my life were being put back together, perhaps in a different way from what I imagined, but they were all there. I still have moments when I question and wonder where my life is heading, but I know where I have been and I trust that God is leading me, even if that means I may have to grow and change in the process. I continue to remind myself that no matter what I am going through or where I am struggling, I am God’s own child. Sometimes just repeating it to myself (or seeing it on the Letter of Call in my office) helps me through those not so certain days.
1. What about your life right now makes you feel uncertain or unsettled?
2. What does it mean to you to have this uncertainty in your life?
3. What can you do to help you feel more comfortable in your uncertainty?
Gracious God, we thank you the many blessings you have given to us, even those that bring us uncertainty and change. Grant to us peace, comfort, and perseverance for the journey to which you have called us. Amen.
The Rev. Katie Brantner is the Pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church (Hametown) in Glen Rock, Pa. She is a 2008 graduate of the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg and is married with two children.