I was thinking again the other day about the question I believe was from God that I heard in my thoughts years ago in Great Falls, Montana one Saturday evening as I was preparing for two meetings the next day. (I know I have mentioned this before on this blog but the issue was good for me to think about again) The question was: “Darla, would you be willing to be an ordinary person?” I was struggling at that point in my life to stay in the ministry for several reasons, so I felt this question had to do with my possible leaving.
I had never entertained the thought before the other day, that when God asked me this question He was in essence saying that I was not ordinary but extraordinary! Ha! I know now that in God’s eyes, I have always been extraordinary, NOT because of who I am, but because of what He has done on my behalf and because I belong to Him, so that question had to do with others view of me, not God’s.
In the meeting/ministry culture, I must have been extraordinary. Hmmmm. (Well, I’m not boasting here, because most of the workers are considered this way by the laity.) At the time, I was a senior worker, in my prime really, and it was shortly after this question (within a couple of years) I left the ministry work for good.
I’m reading a book called, “Leaving Church” by Barbara Brown Taylor and it’s her story of how she left the priesthood in the church she served in and how that came about. The age old question came to my mind when I was in the throes of this as well; was this my idea or God’s idea for me to leave? Barbara writes,
“The effort to untangle the human words from the divine seems not only futile to me but also unnecessary, since God works with what is. God uses whatever is usable in a life, both to speak and to act, and those who insist on fireworks in the sky may miss the electricity that sparks the human heart.”
I find this so comforting and freeing. God works with what is. Nothing comes as a surprise to Him. It helps me finally understand another thought from Him during those days. “Darla, there is no right or wrong in this”. My leaving the ministry was not wrong in His sight, but it was what it was. Period. And He worked with it. The group did not understand but He did. When I left the group altogether, there was no right or wrong in that decision either. It was what it was. And He worked with this too. The group condemned me but He did not. I believe this with all my heart.
By leaving the ministry, my place of ‘fame’ and glory, I immediately fell from grace within the group. And I began to be an ordinary person. Had I stayed in the group but just left the ministry, in time I would have carved out some sort of ‘place’ for myself within the fellowship but I would have forever and always been introduced within the group as, “Hello, this is Darla DenHerder, she used to be in the Work…..” Yes, if I had stayed in the group after leaving the ministry, I would have been an ordinary person in that circle, but it would have been very hard for me; almost unbearable. The constant shame (because I wouldn’t have known it could be otherwise), would have crushed me. The judgment of the group, the pity, the tsk tsking but mostly just having to be around the workers all the time would have been like salt in the wound. Those couple of years when I did go to convention after I left the Work were awful and awkward. Painful. Even though, at the same time, I was LOVING my freedom on all levels. If I had married, it may have been easier. Maybe all along I somehow knew I would have to leave the group entirely after leaving the ministry in order to find peace and rest of mind and spirit.
God didn’t ask me that day if I’d be willing for an ordinary life
but to be an ordinary person.
I am an ordinary person now, but I don’t have an ordinary life. I have few of the labels that attach themselves to ordinary lives but I have struggled unnecessarily through the years because I forgot what God really said. Neither has been easy (the ordinary life and being an ordinary person) but each has had its rewards as well as its pain. They are hard to separate; yet I found it helpful today to do just that for a bit and see how each felt and remember how each was. Being an ordinary person has been easier in the long run than the ordinary life. I used to be an extrovert but am now much more of an introvert so being an ordinary person much more suits me now.
Taylor also wrote,
“I began to do what every full-time parish minister should probably do on a regular basis, or at least those who worry about losing their jobs more than they worry about losing their own souls. I began thinking about what else I could do for a living. The alternatives I came up with all involved significant loss of status.”
The ordinary life as well as the ordinary person were involved.
She quotes Walter Brueggeman, a scholar of the Hebrew Bible:
“The world for which you have been so carefully prepared is being taken away from you by the grace of God.”
She said as she prepared to literally walk away from her church that she paused “to breathe the crisp air of her accomplishments” but she kept going because it meant she was acknowledging;
“something else she knew was true. While my friends were becoming bishops and deans of cathedrals, I was falling off the ladder of success… by leaving church I was about to leave everything I knew how to do and be. I had no way of knowing whether my choice would turn out to be a good one, and by the time I discovered that answer there would be no going back. “
She said she was abandoning,
“everything she knew for something I could only trust: that God was in this loss, which was not robbery but relinquishment.”
She told of hearing a flock of geese overhead at that time and when they were gone, “the words formed in the empty air: Take me with you!” The night after her farewell party was over and she stepped into the night, she heard the familiar honking over her head. She said,
“I took their presence as a blessing. I, too, was on the move without a map. Listening to the goose voices disappearing in the dark, I sensed that God did not judge my strong urge to fly.”
For me, He did not judge my strong urge for something more, something deeper, something more real. He did not judge my strong need of personal space. That was 100% contrary to the teachings of the group but there is no condemnation in Christ. Yes, I experienced a significant loss of status, but by the grace of God, it was taken away. My identity is no longer based on what I have done or do, but who I am in Christ even more so than who I am in this world. In this world, I am a sister, an aunt, a friend, a co-worker and a neighbor. In Christ I am beloved, chosen, loved unconditionally, redeemed (a HUGE thing for me), daughter of a king, a sister in Christ, and more.
I realized this morning I never actually answered God when He asked me this question but rather I felt a “well maybe” kind of feeling. But I began to consciously and unconsciously move towards being able to answer yes to the question from that time forward. What if I had said, “No”? Could I have said no because I wanted and needed to stay in that place of security, honor and place? I think I could have said no and stayed but only for a few more years max. I was needing space and wings too badly. I never wanted an ordinary life before then; in fact I had feared that very thing from a young age. I thought the ordinary life my family and a lot of my friends had was boring, simple, not enough. Was God bringing me back to that place to humble me and show me how horribly wrong I had been about their lives? Quite possibly. I have been terribly judgmental in my life about so many things and by bringing me back full circle, over and over again, I have seen things from the other side and realized how wrong I had been.
So, I truly believe this decision to be an ordinary person, costly though it has been, was God’s mercy in changing who I was from the inside out by taking away all the props, all the smoke and mirrors, all the illusions of greatness and whatever was necessary to get the focus off of me and on to Him. It has been a crazy adventure for sure but it has not been boring. He gave me strength to do the impossible. And He is not done yet apparently.