Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
Our life journeys can feel like lead sometimes. The heaviness is palpable. Perilous in the uncertainty, the vocational path may feel like climbing a steep rock-face. Fear has some serious weight. Anxiety and stress merge, creating isolation, loss of self, and despair. At the start of this year, my vocational path shifted; and as my husband, Guy, lovingly said, “Transitions are tough.” Educator and writer, Parker Palmer in his book “Let Your Life Speak,” equates the shadows of depression and loss of vocational purpose as one in the same.* He points out that when a pathway closes, we sometimes experience profound unworthiness – as our certain future, our vocational truth does not quite pan out like we thought it would.
A few months ago, I chose to leave the sacred ministry of hospice chaplaincy after serving in this capacity for two and a half years. In my heart of hearts, I knew that this path was not mine. But then this begged the question of what was….? Palmer writes that his anxiety about way not opening, the anxiety that kept him pounding on closed doors, almost prevented him from seeing the secret that was hidden in plain sight.
What, for me, began as a painful and desolate January – turned into some serious desert walking in February. I remember saying to a friend – prior to Ash Wednesday, that I was pretty sure this must be one of the longest Lents on record. My friend looked at me, “Perhaps you might want to reframe that?” “Could Lent be something different?” Her words became an opening. A shadow of light made its way through what felt like an impenetrable rock – I would even go so far as to say that it was tomb-like. Feeling alone, lost, unmoored, and unanchored, I needed hope. Parker Palmer noted that during his discernment, he heard a voice deep within that said, “I love you.” Yet he could not accept this love in his confusion and desolation.
The fog of darkness weighs upon limbs and heart. There is no way out seemingly – it is a space where your perception is completely off – where you are certain you have nothing to offer.
But then, those church friends counter your thought processes and a ministerial advisor reminds you that you are not the disaster you think you are, that in fact there is always a way before us that is opening if only we will grasp it. In beginning to identify a need for help…I knew I needed to regain my footing with God. It was like seeing those rays of dust and molecules highlighted by the sun while standing in a dark room. Wise others become crucial witnesses. What feels insurmountable, suddenly becomes a moment of possibility and imagination: a way opening. God’s presence. Purpose renewed, clarity even.
Therefore, having so vast a cloud of witnesses surrounding us…. let us keep going with endurance on the path set before us. (Hebrews 12:1)
And, indeed, it was all right before me, temporarily hidden from plain sight. I have always been deeply compelled by the intersection of mental health, faith, religion, and spirituality; it is, I believe, my calling. The Danielsen Institute at Boston University, where I have worked and trained for several years, is a mental health clinic focused on the intersection of psychology and religion, faith, and hope. They have agreed to become my Calling Body in authorized ministry. The stone rolls away, and with it, the darkness. There is air to breathe, and hope, in the Spirit.
God reminds us, that the night is nearly over; the day has drawn near – This is the Holy Week promise. This is an intention of faith.
* Palmer, Parker. Let Your Life Speak. San Francisco: John Wiley and Sons, 2000.
Jennifer Stuart is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. She serves as a community minister at First Church in Cambridge, MA, UCC. Jennifer, a clinical social worker specializing in psychological trauma, is a psychotherapist at the Danielsen Institute at Boston University.