by Angela Denker
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
It’s a strange thing, but in my vocational life, I’ve found that some of the best opportunities I’ve found have come to me after at least one disappointment. It all started in 2003, when my dream college rejected me. That should have prepared me for the job hunt:
• December 2006: A promised job fell through.
• January 2007: I made it to the final interview but it didn’t work out.
• February 2007: I got a job – in my field! – that paid twice as much as the one that fell through.
Then, after discerning that I was called to the ministry, I started over again.
• January 2011: I interviewed for several pastoral internships in my area but none of them worked out.
• February 2011: I started an internship at a vibrant congregation in Las Vegas – a post that has informed my ministry ever since.
• March 2013: My first-call assignment was in rural Minnesota, but there was no work for my husband there. It didn’t work out.
• May 2013: I accepted a call to a small congregation in Chicago, where my husband could work. It worked out beautifully!
• December 2014: Another congregation in Chicago invited me to interview but it didn’t work out.
• March 2015: A big and busy congregation in California called me to serve as a member of its pastoral staff. What an experience!
• June 2017: Following what I thought was a call from God, I took a part-time call so that I could be at home with our two small children.
• July – December 2017: I interviewed for full-time pastoral positions with several congregations, but none were a good fit.
• December 2017: I thought I’d found the perfect fit with a wonderful congregation, but it fell through at the very last minute.
• December 2017: The day before that happened, I received an offer for a book contract.
• January 2017: I officially went “on leave from call” and committed myself to the writing life.
• February 2017: My dream congregation offered me my dream position: part-time teaching pastor. At last!
You’d think that with this years-long list of disappointments followed by satisfactions, I’d have learned to be confident in God’s plan for my vocation. And I’d love to say that’s true, but I don’t have it down perfectly yet.
I still have those moments of doubt and uncertainty and confusion and even despair. I too often range from one external rejection to another external affirmation, letting my internal spirit be affected by my outward accomplishments. And that’s not the vocation that God intends for any of us.
Clearly, the Spirit’s path for us (or at least for me) isn’t a smooth, straight-ahead line. It’s much more like trying to cross a big trampoline. Sinking low only to rebound high into the air – the lower the dip, the higher the leap — saved and raised up by our God who defeated death and can certainly defeat human disappointment and fear.
Through all the ups and downs, dips and leaps, I’ve learned a few things.
1. Build up your self-worth. Particularly if you tend toward perfectionism or achievement, you have likely received plenty of external affirmation – awards, honors, praise, scholarships. This is not a bad thing, but it can deplete our internal capacity for self-love and affirmation. True worth and Godly love are rooted not in accomplishments or awards but rather in the pure acceptance that is poured out on all of us from the dawn of creation. The writer of 1 John writes: “We love because [God] first loved us.” God loves us not because of our accomplishments but because of our very being. God calls us to love ourselves in the same way, rooted in self-love as we ride the rollercoaster of life’s highs and lows.
2. Don’t make concessions or try to fit yourself into someone else’s box. Wait upon the LORD, and often a poor fit will be replaced with one that celebrates your God-given gifts. At the beginning of this reflection, I quote the beautiful words of the Prophet Isaiah: “those who wait upon the LORD will renew their strength.” When I look at my above list of disappointments, many of them share a similar characteristic: they weren’t the right fit for me. Instead, I often wanted them because of prestige: such as attending that dream college or being the pastor of a very large church, even if it wasn’t a good fit.
3. Don’t rush. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was “don’t take a call too soon.” This advice works outside the church, too. Don’t take a job too soon if it’s not the right one. The waiting, as Tom Petty sang, is often the hardest part. But it is in the waiting when God renews your strength, lifting you on wings like an eagle, and teaching you to fly.
Lord, as we wait upon you to renew our souls in times of uncertainty and unpredictability in our life’s paths, surround us with your love and your peace, which passes all understanding. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
1. When have you experienced rejection in your life and how have you coped with it?
2. When did Jesus experience rejection?
3. Where can you find comfort and support during difficult circumstances?
Angela Denker is an ELCA pastor and journalist. She has written for many publications, including The Washington Post, Religion News Service and Living Lutheran. Her book, Red State Christians: Understanding the Voters Who Elected Donald Trump, launched Aug. 6 by Fortress Press.