In my final year of seminary, I pastored a small rural church in a little Indiana farm community. This was a seminary pastorate; the church didn’t expect me to stay after graduation and I didn’t expect to stay. As graduation drew close, I was ready to go on to bigger and better things. The problem was that no one else seemed ready for me to go on to bigger and better things.
I had sent out resumes—no response, not even a nibble. Churches were not exactly knocking on my door wanting me to come. In fact, they were not even sending me any rejection letters. This process went on for several months. I began to question my calling. At one point I was so filled with anxiety that I found it difficult to sit in class. I felt miserable and felt guilty for feeling so miserable. And the feelings of guilt for doubting my calling and questioning my faith compounded my anxiety.
I happened to be taking a pastoral counseling class at the time and the professor said something very simple that struck me as quite profound. It came to me as a word from God. He said, “It’s okay to feel bad.” Pretty simple isn’t it? But that is what I needed to hear. An immense weight lifted when I appropriated that word.
Some of the anxiety I was experiencing came from the sense that my stay in Hoover, Indiana, could be for a longer time than I had wanted or anticipated. But the debilitating, oppressive anxiety that I felt crushing me sprang from the guilt over feeling bad and from questioning my calling. When I realized that it was okay to feel bad, to question and to experience some anxiety, then the deep dread, guilt, and worry that hovered over me started to dissipate.
As a pastor I am sometimes asked how we might discern God’s voice today. How can we discern if God is speaking? How can we know if we are being led by the Divine Spirit? Obviously, this is a very subjective experience and process, but I offer the following guidelines. God’s voice . . .
* nurtures healing, renewal, and reconciliation
* inspires compassion, forgiveness, and the pursuit of peace
* encourages inclusivity, empathy, and generosity
* ignites humility and gratitude
* challenges the status quo and conventional wisdom
* envisions an alternative world of equality and justice for all, especially the disadvantaged and the oppressed
* brings out the best of the human spirit
If every voice claiming to know God’s will or speak God’s word would be filtered through the guidelines above, I suspect we could more readily discern what is real from what is unreal.
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Anyone interested in learning more about a progressive approach to Christian faith is invited to check out my book: Being a Progressive Christian (is not) for Dummies (nor for know-it-alls): An Evolution of Faith. http://www.nurturingfaith.info/?p=1297/