(Post #9 in a collaborative series)
Guest Blogger Rick Howell
I felt the call of God into the ministry at the ripe young age of 17. While I obediently began to make decisions consistent with this understanding of God’s direction for my life, I thought it was the dumbest thing God could do. I was active in a small Baptist Church that only had two staff members: a pastor and a choir director. I knew I couldn’t sing; therefore, my calling must be to be a pastor. The problem with this, from my perspective, was that there was very little that I saw my pastor do that I thought I would either be good at or enjoy. Nevertheless, to the best of my understanding I proceeded forward. After getting married, my new bride and I moved to Louisville, Kentucky, to begin my pastoral preparation at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I was 22 years old. Through the course of the next five years, God used a variety of circumstances to guide my journey to places I did not even know existed when Debbie and I packed the U-Haul and headed north. At a certain point in my ministerial formation, I experienced a crisis of self and faith that, I would learn one day, was complicated by my misunderstandings of myself, God, and our relationship. Fortunately, for me, Southern had an arrangement with a local counselor with whom I began to meet. This counseling relationship became a vital tool of the Holy Spirit to begin to attend to some very unhealthy dimensions of my relationship with God and with myself. This exploration of self and God was at times very painful, but also life giving. I began to experience a deepening intimacy with God that would have not been possible if I had maintained my previous perspectives. Ever so gradually, I began to wonder if my particular God-given gifts and talents were intended for a ministry of pastoral counseling rather than the pastorate. As my calling began to be clarified and focused, God’s idea originally communicated eight years earlier became much less dumb. Isn’t it interesting how that transformation occurred?
My relationship with myself and God continues to grow and become, now 32 years later. I have come to understand that God is not nearly as concerned about my productivity as my connectivity. Staying grounded to myself enhances my willingness to be connected to God as I am clearly aware of my longing for God. Staying grounded to God, being reminded of God’s deep desire to hang out with me, enables me to be honest in my self-assessment thereby improving my relationship with myself. From time to time, I experience unhealthy remnants of my immature understanding of myself and God. I get caught up in impressing God with my activity or achievement. While these vestiges continue to disrupt my journey, I am committed to my own healing. God is patient, kind, and clear as I encounter these setbacks. God’s calm voice keeps calling me back. “Be still and know that I am God.”
At the same time and as a result of God’s calling on my life, I have had the privilege of serving God by walking alongside of people who are loved by God, for whom God desperately desires healing and wholeness. Through the years I have discovered that I am not unique, as it is common for folks to need a safe relationship with whom they can explore themselves, God, and their relationship. Perhaps this familiar human journey is what The Holy Scriptures is referring to when we are told to “Work out our own salvation in fear and trembling.” Relationships (with self, God, and others) are like bottles of Ketchup. It doesn’t matter how full they look from the outside; it takes a lot of work to get anything out of them.