When a time comes that you, your personality and everything you say are under intense scrutiny do you show your true self or put a mask on and be someone else? If that person has the potential to alter the path you take in life do you try to be the person you think they will want to see, or do you trust that the right thing will happen when they see who you really are?
We’ve all been there, first dates, job interviews, important meetings, etc. We take extra care about the clothes we wear, we get there early, we are keen to impress. But in our nervousness to impress we can make mistakes and it can go horribly wrong.
One Christmas I was meeting my girlfriend’s parents for the first time and was keen to make a good impression. I gave them some carefully chosen presents but in my nervousness I also reached for the ‘joke’ present I had brought for my girlfriend. The presents were handed open and I sat anxiously as they were opened. All eyes were on my girlfriend as she opened hers to reveal a sparkling silver scouring pad, My future in-laws were not impressed. It was a bad first impression!
I have an important meeting coming up, one which like meeting my in-laws, has the potential to stop my ‘plans’ dead in their tracks. I am about to meet a Vocations Chaplain.
Like many exploring ordination, the sense of calling began as a private and personal affair, shared only with my closest friends. It went in waves of intensity before becoming quite intense at the beginning of this year. I met with my vicar and started to have some fairly informal chats about it all. Then when the time was right, when both my wife and I were committed to follow this path no matter what happened, I formalised the process – I asked to get my local Diocese involved. It then felt rather serious.
Meeting a Vocations Chaplain is the first of many steps where others walk alongside me to discern whether God is truly calling me, or if it is a personal whim or passing fancy. There is a Vocations Director, Examining Chaplains, a sponsoring Bishop and a BAP (the Diocese of Bath & Wells have a good and simple overview). I’m starting to grasp what these stages might bring but I suspect there wont be a burger in the BAP and that the Bishop won’t want to sponsor me by the mile/to run a marathon.
It’s all rather daunting and, to be honest, feels like a series of job interviews to be passed. Do I have what it takes, the right mix of skills and experience to do the job well and better than the other candidates? Do I need to prepare a sales pitch and will meeting the Vocations Chaplain be anything like being on The Apprentice? Perish the thought!
We often compare ourselves with others, even those we don’t know and have never met before, such as fellow candidates all vying for the job they are all being interviewed for. It can leave us feeling inadequate. We can doubt our own calling if we don’t fit the stereotype we have built up in our minds, even if it is something we desperately desire to do.
We have all seen inspirational leaders, many having strong and charismatic personalities that draw people in, others more that inspire through their humbleness. J. John is an awesome and hilarious evangelist and communicates the Gospel in a way I could never do. Mother Teresa continues to inspire years after she joined the great party in the sky. King David was an archetypal strong leader. As Nicky Gumbel (another inspiring leader) points out in his Bible in the Year passage for 25th May 2013 David looked good, spoke well and was a gifted musician. He was a successful and famous leader. Had he lived today his image might even be competing with David Beckham for press coverage. I am unlike all of those people!
As with a job interview for those on the path towards Anglican ordination there is a job description, called the selection criteria, that those assigned to walk with me will judge me against.
There is, however, one fundamental difference between a job interview and meeting people like the Vocations Chaplain. They are looking beyond simply ticking the boxes on the selection criteria. They are not, so I’m told, comparing me with others and I’m grateful for that! As God did with David, they are expected to look beyond the superficial and look at the heart. They, like me, are looking to see whether God is involved in all this and whether He is indeed calling me to become ordained.
So who should I be when I meet the Vocations Chaplain?
The correct answer is not necessarily the comfortable one. I know I shouldn’t put on a mask and try to be the person I think that the Vocations Chaplain will want to see. I know that I should be who I am, true to my personality, emotions, feelings and thoughts.
I am confident that the Vocations Chaplain has only been assigned that role because many others have seen that God works through them. They have themselves been through such a process as this. And if, as I believe, God knows me better than I know myself then people such as the Vocations Chaplain will see through a mask I might wear anyway. Yet though I ‘know’ all this I still find myself and my confidence wavering.
At the core of what God is asking me right now is do I trust Him? If I am it means being willing to give up trying to be in control. It means being willing to submit the exploration to Him and to those He has entrusted to discern the calling. It means entrusting the plan for my life, and navigating through it, wholeheartedly to God (see previous blog post “Planning Ahead”). It also means being willing to face rejection and disappointment.
David faced rejection on his path to becoming King. Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, faced rejection. He was told by a Bishop “I’ve interviewed more than a 1000 people for ordination and I can tell you that you don’t come in the top 1000”
Even though some may decide that God isn’t calling us as we believe we shouldn’t automatically give up and abandon the journey. As God did to David and Justin Welby God may be still calling us to continue and to persevere, and thank God that they did! But we must also ask ourselves why we have been rejected. Were people wrong to reject us? Are we being blind to what God is saying because we have our hearts set on a particular destination?
We have to be careful to discern whether the destination we have in mind is necessarily the same one God has in mind. God’s plan may be for us simply to explore something so that in the process of doing so we are transformed into the person He has made us to be. Whatever the end point of such a period of exploration it is but part of a larger journey to the ultimate destination of the new Kingdom, when all becomes as it was intended from the beginning of time,
The temptation to be who we perceive people want us to be can be strong but we need to trust God. God loves us unconditionally. He looks on us and smiles with pride when we seek His will and to do it. We need to relax and to be ourselves if we are to get the most out of the journey. If people sent to test and judge us by God are being true to Him they will see the truth in us. We need to seek the Holy Spirit to power us through the temptation to put on a mask and be someone else.
Somehow when I met my girlfriend’s parents they saw though the mask created by my nerves and saw something in me they liked. They also trusted their daughter’s judgement and discernment. When I met them a second time and asked for their permission to marry her they said yes, as thankfully did my girlfriend too!
So when I meet the Vocations Chaplain I know I need to cast my worries aside, to let God take them from me. I will walk into that meeting as me and will walk out still on the path God has set for me. I just need to wait until after that meeting to see if the path is continuing on towards ordination or changing direction.
- Archbishop of Canterbury found religion ‘boring’, he admits (telegraph.co.uk)
- Prayer is Pivotal (Part 1): Lessons from #LC13 (princessemmablog.wordpress.com)
- Identity Part I: The Ideal Me (beautyforashessite.wordpress.com)