Discernment doesn’t stop after retirement
God doesn’t always draw straight lines.
The taxi driver asked God’s blessings on me as we pulled into the departures lane at Chicago’s O’Hare airport. I was traveling to a small Midwest town to teach presentation skills to a group of women bankers, or, as the driver reframed it for me, “Giving up your weekend to help other people be their best.” I was doing something I loved, but I did not know this was a ministry.
I was on that plane to Iowa with the goal of empowering women who had little access to professional development opportunities so they might get ahead in an industry that made it hard for them to succeed. I was helping them find their voices, which would be deployed in loan committees, chambers of commerce, and community service. And meanwhile I was building my own portfolio with hopes of moving into corporate management training, a goal I finally achieved and enjoyed for a decade. But I did not yet understand this as holy work.
In 1994 my family joined a new church, and the rector invited my husband and me to start a youth group. While I was adequate at leading icebreakers and following lesson plans, I was reticent about sharing my faith. Because I was utterly unable to articulate my own beliefs or describe any sort of relationship with God, I couldn’t confidently draw young people into conversations about the divine. I could not help them find their own voices because I hadn’t yet found my own. But my shame over my lackluster performance as a youth minister was the refiner’s fire that brought my next step into focus.
God, as I would come to realize, doesn’t always draw straight lines.
Eager to learn about scripture and tradition, I enrolled in Education for Ministry (EfM), a program of distance learning from an Episcopal seminary that was sponsored by a neighboring parish. The weekly discipline of guided theological reflection honed an alertness to God’s activity in the world, and the insights fellow program participants and I drew from those reflections led us gently into discernment of our own ministries. It was in EfM that I recalled the taxi driver’s blessing and began to recognize the pattern of God’s call to me. Each time it had begun with a sudden clarity, the words “I could do this” coming to me and flooding me with a sense of confidence. Each time I became aware of a warmth and a presence and the strength to take the next step.
When my EfM mentor suggested I start a new group, I knew that presence again. Six years later, it would call me to seek a position as associate for Christian Formation. For eight years, my ministry was to help children, teens, and the adults who teach them become fluent in the language of faith. It makes my heart glad when a child discovers something new in a parable or when an adolescent reveals a challenging truth. I have rejoiced as the adults who work with them voice their wonder at new insights gained from this holy work.
Recently, I retired. I do not know what the next focus for my ministry will be, but when the call comes, I will know how to recognize it.
Photo by Jeff Sheldon on Unsplash
This article is part of a series of reflections on faith and vocation that appeared in our August 2017 issue. The essays will be collected here as they are published.