Sometimes I wonder where we will end up in this journey. As a nature-lover, I imagine a tranquil, peaceful place of refuge. I can already feel the delights of discovering a new place alive and afresh with nature trails, river-fronts, maybe mountain ranges or ocean views. This beckons me forward allowing that slight detachment that I need from where I call home. Letting me know that God cares about this nature-loving girl and surely wants her adventure to be a picturesque one.
So when Nathan mentions a pastoral position open in Peoria Illinois. My first thoughts are of an armpit. Yes, you heard that right. Somehow the name Peoria (which I can’t even spell) translates into armpit for me. I have no idea what Peoria is like, but somehow it hasn’t made it to the top of every nature-lovers’ bucket list. Somehow to me it seems rather dismal, a lush grey fog of industry clouds any view of something picturesque. Surely a great prejudice on my part since I’ve never even looked up the city on the Internet.
Now something that has never had my attention comes into view for the first time and I have to wrestle with the idea. I have noticed that when a tangible opportunity arises, my first reaction is one of disgust. Somehow nothing matches my idealistic view of the future. A position comes open here in Denton at a church that I’ve developed a negative view of. My first reaction is ‘hell no.’ Out of all the churches in the area that I would consider, this church was the lowest on my list. Honestly, my reaction to even pastoring in the first place was a big resounding ‘no.’
I must step back and consider why I am so opposed to these opportunities. Mainly I think I see no glory in them. They do not have within them a sense of zeal for me, a beauty where purpose and enjoyment align. Instead, they appear the opposite – there is no glory there, my life would be dull there, I would have to suffer.
So we decide to interim at the Denton church – the one I say ‘hell no’ to. I cringe even writing those words as I imagine these precious church members picking up this story and realizing my utter reluctance to minister life and Christ to them. I realize my initial reaction was to hate them instead of love them. But now I really love them. Nathan remarks to me how he sees me doing things for them without complaining or drudgery. I even provide them a meal – something that is outside of my gifting cluster. Why, because I’m falling in love with these people. I don’t have to serve them, but I want to serve them. I am enjoying being their pastor and watching my husband be their pastor.
I think God is trying to show me something here. I selfishly want to feel love first. I want to connect with this new place of calling emotionally. When I don’t feel it right away, I say ‘hell no.’ Instead, God wants this walk to be one of obedience. He wants me to chose to love a city or a people, to reach past my prejudices and preferences and chose to love. Why do I expect this call to ministry to be different? God is love. His very character is agape love. Selflessly He choses to love us without expecting anything in return. He first loved and only afterward did we become in any way lovable.
The best metaphor I have to this experience is one of an arranged marriage. I am not arranging for myself to be united with a city, a people, or a church. God is working this whole thing out, while I obey Him accepting that what He has designed for me, as a loving parent, is the best for me. I realize I don’t even know what is best for me. As He places these churches, communities before me – Denton (a church of 19 people), Peoria (a city I imagine is the armpit of society, sorry Peoria), He expects me to choose to love them. And you know what I realize, because He has chosen to love me, I know that I have the capacity to love them with this selfless, agape love. Only because He has transformed me with His love do I know that He wants to do that same transforming work through me into churches and communities.
I must extend this metaphor a little bit here still. Is God going to arrange a marriage for me to a hell hole? No, again, the loving Father wants to set his child up in the best possible arrangement. But this person is a stranger to me. I do not love him at first glance. I chose to trust my Father that if He confirms that He has arranged this for me, this church, this community, no matter how buck-toothed and pock-faced, is best. It is a place and a people that I will choose to love and in the process, will love emotionally as well despite their many flaws and foibles.
I imagine myself in a pastoral search interview. I have often wondered what I would say. Inevitably they are going to ask me what my role as Pastor’s Wife will be. I have been afraid that I will make promises I cannot keep. I am afraid I won’t place the proper boundaries on my time. I am concerned because I truly and realistically don’t know what I will do in a role that is done so many different ways. I feel like I have to try on the clothes before I know how they fit me. But now I realize a promise I can make, a boundary I can set, and a truth I can tell. I will write. I will take care of my family. And I will meet people, I will walk places in this community, and I will chose to love. If God has called me here and I obey His voice obediently, I can take an armpit of a people and place, and find that God’s love through me transforms them into the perfect place and the perfect people for me to be matched with. I will fall in love with Peoria, Illinois. I will fall in love with 19 people in Denton Texas who have been struggling to make a church grow. I will serve them, not out of obligation and apathy, but out of love and devotion.
How can I not love Peoria Illinois when God says it is my match? This gives me tremendous confidence in this search. I want God’s best. I want to love not because I feel like it, but because I am committed to it.