The Freedom to Trust
It was April. The scene was the baccalaureate service in the seminary chapel. The invitation that evening was for those who were graduating to come forward for anointing and prayer.
What would you like me to pray for you?
I allowed the question to settle and did a quick examen of my life. It had been a difficult stretch.
As I pondered the question, I thought of the invitation of God that had led me to leave my life as a public school teacher four years earlier. It had been a move that felt like jumping out of a plane and trusting the parachute to open.
During the first three years of the transition from teaching to pastoral ministry, it felt like the parachute had opened and I had landed on my feet. Sure there was a learning curve, but there was also a deep sense of peace that I was living into a vocation that was authentic. My life made sense.
The Spanish philosopher, Jose Ortega y Gasset, wrote these words: “These are the only genuine ideas, the ideas of the shipwrecked. All the rest is rhetoric, posturing, farce.”
I had not seen the shipwreck coming.
The previous fall had been a rich time of study and formation during a three month sabbatical. It felt good to lay down the responsibility of pastoral ministry for a season and immerse myself in a rhythm of study, physical work, and time with family. The work of fifteen graduate credits was balanced with the physical work of running, a few painting projects around the house and digging in the garden. All was well.
Then I returned from sabbatical.
As I stood for anointing and prayer at baccalaureate, I was aware of my unsettledness. The unsettledness had to do with months of listening to stories of pain. The unsettledness had to do with months of being present to harsh judgments and anger. The unsettledness had to do with a mediation process that had culminated with a five hour circle meeting with reconciliation seemingly nowhere in sight.
As I stood for anointing and prayer at baccalaureate, I was also aware of a ticking clock. Even though I was participating in the commencement exercises the next day, I still needed to write and defend a thesis. The congregational crisis had meant that I was not where I had hoped to be at this point. I had until July to finish my thesis and defend it before a committee. No worries.
As I stood for anointing and prayer at baccalaureate, we were continuing to live with the unknowns and the questions that go with a shared journey with a loved one battling cancer. After two years of chemotherapy and physical changes, cancer had become a part of our lives. With six deaths in the last eight years in our extended family we were all too familiar with the fragility of life. We were well aware of the reality that faith does not always bring healing. God’s invitation to us seemed to be about living in the present moment and learning to trust.
What would you like me to pray for you?
In the midst of a shipwreck, it is sometimes difficult to know how to pray. There is a sense of powerlessness. The first impulse is to pray for survival. And peace would be nice. But as I waited for the words to come that evening, the ones that came out of my mouth were these: For the freedom to trust.
It was one of those moments when the words that come, come from a deep place. They were my words, but they were deeper than my words. The words gave expression to a desire for that which is genuine. But I needed prayer to trust that shipwrecks are part of the process. The words of the prayer that was offered went deep. It was a moment of grace.
Life has moved on. The thesis did get written. There has been a resignation at church which is a reminder that shipwrecks are real and sometimes there are losses. And three days ago, Dalina was released from her suffering.
I do not fully know how the prayer at baccalaureate is being answered. But I am learning that shipwrecks are part of the work of formation.