Here are my responses to the final questions given to the Discernment group. We were asked to write from the perspective of our leaders, I sort of did that. The names have been initializes to protect the innocent. The questions are speculative, the answers are likewise, this is not a record.
(1) You have received a yes – describe your feelings, what your leaders will say are the reasons and what happens after you leave the room.
If I receive a yes, I think I will feel satisfaction that the Church has confirmed my call. I will also feel relief that I wasn’t deluding myself when I first received the message to seek the priesthood. It feels good to be confirmed in such a faith-filled decision. Closely following the relief and satisfaction will likely be anxiety. While I have worked hard on my anxiety, it will be difficult to not feel anxious at the prospect of the huge changes that will occur in my life and my family’s life. With a yes comes three or more years of graduate school, selling a house, moving, securing new employment for, B, my wife, etc. This is daunting. But B and I have stepped out on faith; we know the way will be hard. The busyness of the discernment process has tested our marriage and we have found it to be exceedingly strong. We’ve adopted a motto: We can do hard. It means that we can handle stress and adversity because we value our family and each other’s ministries.
I think P and N (the group leaders)will confirm my call for several reasons. First is that, as stated above, I have strong support with my wife and family. This security will be invaluable as I develop my ministry and step out into a new domain.
Also, I think that P and N will have seen that I am open to discernment as a whole. The discernment process that the diocese has designed has been a wonderful experience but I have recognized that true discernment doesn’t stop with a yes or a no. My discernment will continue. It is this recognition of continual searching within, always trying to unpack the motives and feelings behind my words and choices, asking, “Where is God in this?” that is a good quality for a priest. I hope P and N, and all the others I have encountered in this process see that I have not shied away from the difficult work of digging up my dirt. It’s been ugly at times, sublime at others and I am committed to the ongoing process of discernment.
Finally, and most simply, P and N will have seen that I am a good listener, a good quality for a priest. I think that I am empathetic but without undue attachment or judgment to what is being said. I have a clear sense of boundaries already from my job as a teacher that I think will translate well to the priesthood. I have always worked closely with people and feel at ease in conversation and engagement.
After I meet with P and N I imagine I will sit in my car for a little while and try to let the news sink in. I will then call my wife and give her the news. I expect her to have a similar reaction to mine, excitement tempered heavily with the reality of what comes next: total life change. On the drive back to Fayetteville I suppose I will listen to Led Zeppelin, “Misty Mountain Hop” very loud, then call my mom.
2.) You have received a no - describe your feelings, what your leaders will say are the reasons, and what happens after you leave the room.
If I receive a no, I think I will feel some disappointment at first. This will not be crushing disappointment because I have been preparing myself for the possibility of a no answer. Some confusion is sure to follow, “If the Church doesn’t support my call to the priesthood, will it help me find my true vocation?” I think I might even feel some excitement with a no. Excitement because I have faithfully stepped out with God, the Church sees me somewhere else, but I have freedom to go where God calls me because my faithful step still stands. I was and am prepared to change my life completely for a life dedicated to God and His people and will continue to listen for God’s call in my life.
I may have received a no for a few reasons. One reason might be that P and N don’t think I’m focused enough for the ordained ministry. I think that they might say that I have shown great dedication and focus during the discernment process, but they’d like to see more focus in my life in the Church. Perhaps they might ask me to try again in a few years in which time I might finish EfM and my tenure with the vestry.
Another reason might be that P and N feel that my family is too young. Perhaps I should wait until my children are both in school full time to seek the priesthood again.
Maybe P and N think that I should continue the inner work begun by the discernment process. P might reiterate his urging to get into therapy. There still might be some junk inside of me that P and N think I should uncover. (I fully intend to get therapy after the decision whether I get a yes or a no. I have been talking to P N, a seminarian, who is in therapy; she has given me tips on how to get a therapist and how to get my insurance company to help pay for it.)
After the meeting I will heartily thank P and N for their insights both today and over the last two months. I will go to my car and sit for few minutes then call my wife. I think her response will be similar to mine because we have talked about this process and the possibility of a no throughout. I will not likely call anyone else, save my parents and priest, for a few days. Not because I am ashamed but because I think some people would feel incumbent to offer me their condolences. These would be those relatives who just haven’t gotten it, no matter how patiently I’ve outlined what discernment is.
(3) It is three months later, you have made some sense of the recommendation and moved on. What will you take with you from this process? Where is the Grace?
Three months later, I finally sold my first story to The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy! An odd by-product of the discernment process is that I can write stories now. I think it was the constant calling into question motivations and getting seriously in touch with feelings, all the makings of a good story.
It is the techniques of self knowledge that I will take with me. Technique is a big word for what amounts to repeatedly asking yourself, “Where’s that coming from?” and “Keep going.” or “What’s that mean?” My life and spirit have been greatly enriched by these simple questions that help me to be honest with myself.
Ultimately the self honesty is where the grace is. When I am honest with myself, I am honest with God also. This is my own little definition of the “poor in spirit.”
Three months later and beyond, I am secure in God’s call to me and I delight in the freedom of my surrender to Him.