If I could have before me the path I took at age 40 or an alternative, which would I take? I now have walked the path I’m on for thirty years, so I am somewhat familiar with it. Imagining another feels impossible.
I was about 40 years old when I decided to explore the ministry. Sensing a call, I asked an elderly preacher for advice and he recommended I try seminary for a year. He had said “it can’t hurt you,” so I tried it. During that year I was naively looking for some supernatural sign, which never came. The second year, however, I felt confident I was in the right place. I assumed a parish was where I would eventually end up. I considered chaplaincy, but dismissed it thinking I had enough love in me to care for an entire congregation. Looking back on that thinking I can see now that it was both unrealistic and naive.
I spent almost 20 years doing parish work and retired when I was 62. During those years I found myself many times in strange, uncomfortable and confusing situations (e.g. confrontational board meetings, death vigils, confirmation classes with bored young people). In my eight years of retirement I have concluded that all the hundreds of sermons, home visits, and prayers probably did not make a real difference.
Was following that path a mistake? Would I have been better off if I had pursued the path of writer which is what I do most of the time in retirement? With writing I sense I am using a gift God has given me. Even when exhausted, I still find writing energizing and rewarding. Every word I put on the page is releasing the seemingly endless river of creativity and passion I feel for God and His way of life. I find channeling my imagination in this area makes me feel useful and vital. These are feelings I seldom had in parish ministry.
However, while saying this, I think there is an awareness that at age forty I did not have enough talent as a writer to earn a living from it. So, while the parish ministry was difficult, it probably was the path I needed to take until I was able in my retirement to jump over to that of writer.
The path I took at age forty allows me now to write for personal satisfaction. I hope to be published, but because it is not a financial necessity, I can relax, take my time and work at developing my writing skill to its full potential. I now wonder if the path less desired but more financially rewarding must often be taken so when we are secure, we can then switch over to the path we wanted in the first place. I can’t say for certain what the value is of the parish years so I must just release them into God’s hands using the faith I exercised back when I was forty.