For better or for worse I finished seminary today.
And, true confessions, right now I’m not feeling very good about it. Not in the “Oh, I’ll really miss all of this” but more like “Why did I do that?” “What was I thinking when I thought I was called to this?” “Next time I say I really feel called to something, someone smack me upside the head.”
I’m leaving seminary at this moment with some pretty chronic imposter syndrome.
By the time I realized I was not a good fit for seminary, or at least this seminary, it was too late. I’d invested too deeply. My relationship with it is also mired and muddled in the complicated feelings of really caring for some of the other parts of my life and people, and things I have done during that time. It’s tangled in the notion that I am a totally different person because of every struggle and frustration and how those same things simultaneously made me feel sad and lonely.
I don’t think that is how you are supposed to feel when you are done. At least, I’ve never heard another seminarian admit to feeling this way when they finished their coursework. Someone told me when I began that Seminary will tear your faith down and then build it back up. But this rebuilding hasn’t happened. There are classes that have moved me and pushed me and helped me grow, but the truth is, I am leaving with way more questions than when I came in.
And truly I tell you it’s a damn shame because if I’ve learned anything throughout seminary it’s that God is probably present somewhere in this.
And truly I tell you it’s a damn shame because I know I’m not the only one.
The broken and the damaged are who Jesus ministered to.
The broken and the damaged are His followers. The broken and the damaged and the unsuccessful and the people who didn’t fit into the acceptable mold.
So maybe my lack of success, my frustration and pain and depression and anger that came out of all of this are somehow exactly the right thing.
But I said I am leaving with more questions than answers.
The fact is that Jesus’ life and ministry and work in the world was with a messy people. Even among his closest followers. In Mark 10, James and John ask Jesus to prepare a place for them beside him in heaven. Jesus gently corrects them like “Dudes, that’s not for me to decide.” But when the other disciples find out they get pretty annoyed… “DUH” they probably said, “You idiots, why would you ask that question. It’s not even the RIGHT question! Way to make us look bad in front of the big man.”
I was definitely the James/John of Seminary. I never had the right answer. I felt very profoundly the admonishment of my peers, the frustration over what I was studying feeling irrelevant, the complete lack of surety of self, the desire to ask why when the class is already 8 feet deep into some abstract theological concept.
And that end to the story and those messy feelings will never be published in the little blog on the front page of their website. It’s all success stories and people doing incredible things and about how deep their faith goes. Not that it’s a bad thing. But they’ll never feature stories of anyone who feels let down or hurt or damaged by the process, no stories of people who floundered post-graduation or struggled to find jobs that paid enough or were spending every day in the midst of sorrow or felt exiled from the community.
We don’t really like to tell the messy stories.
The ones that haven’t yet hit redemption. It’s why pastors avoid theodicy. It’s why we like the happy endings. It’s why we frame everything in the promise that Jesus is comin’ on back. Because otherwise we are left in the mess we have now.
So, maybe my “calling” is to be the person who says “I don’t know” and to sit in the mess with people. Maybe that’s why I’m so drawn to social work, because it’s actually all about the messiness of people and meeting them in it.
Seminary taught me a lot about how to give the right answers, but not how to ask the right questions.
I may not be able to give you the front page story of seminary, but I can promise to sit in the mess with you.