By Charla Belinski
Six and a half years ago I got a phone call from God.
It came in the form of a new neighbor who had just taken over as pastor of a small yet well-known church in our area and he was looking to fill a newly formed position of Director of Youth & Families; several people, he said, had recommended me. I was flattered and thanked him, and without giving the whole thing more than about 5 seconds of my time, I immediately said no.
I had just recently decided to start looking for full-time work after staying home with my kids for 15 years. Having had a career in television broadcasting I envisioned myself getting back into the world of full-time work in a position that would be exciting and career-oriented, and really be worth the compromises I knew it would entail for my family. In short, I had no desire whatsoever to work at a church. “It’s probably a glorified Sunday School volunteer,” I disparaged, even as my husband raised his eyebrows at me in surprise. It was, as he pointed out, right up my alley. I had been a church-goer my whole life, I raised my kids in the church, I had organized Sunday School, and had taken several courses in theology offered by our local churches. But church, faith and religion was still extremely personal to me, not something I broadcast to the world. Plus, truth be told, I had some serious judgments about church staffers. I thought they must all be either super-fanatically religious, or they were way too goody-goody for me. Yeah. Apologies to all the beautiful souls out there tirelessly working on behalf of unenlightened folks like me. I get it now.
Thankfully, God – and the senior pastor—persisted. I finally agreed to at least meet to talk about the job. A half-hour meeting turned into three hours in his living room as I laid it all out there: every challenge (I’d have to change my current church membership); every demand (I need flexibility for my kids); every reason not to (I already have plans to do a parenting TV show). One by one he ticked them off my excuse list, until finally I pulled out my last card.
“I’m just going to be straight with you,” I said. “And I know how bad this sounds but it’s important for me to name it. I just figured if I was going to go back to work full-time it would be for something….bigger.”
He didn’t miss a beat. “Bigger than the kingdom of God?”
I was sunk.
I told my husband I would take the job for one year. That was six years ago and I have never loved a job more. Ever. Still, looking back I can clearly see I had a pattern, and it wasn’t good.
Pastor: Charla, would you lead kids’ sermon this week? Me: No!
Pastor: Charla, would you preach one Sunday? Me: Absolutely not!
Pastor: Charla, would you lead worship while I’m on vacation? Me: No freaking way!
Bless my heart.
Trust me when I tell you that I said no so many times and in so many ways, only to now find myself on the cusp of graduation from ACTUAL SEMINARY and being ORDAINED this summer (whaaaat?!), that I have learned God rarely takes our no’s for an answer.
Something was pulling at me, I just didn’t know what. One morning I was reflecting on the fact that God had answered a recent prayer about a volunteer opportunity with a swift closing of a door (which is precisely what I had asked for: “God, help me discern this.” BOOM! Door closed, thank you very much.). Humbled by it, I simply (finally!) prayed that my life would just be used however God saw fit. I acknowledged that the previous path was clearly not for me and I was done arguing over it with the Universe. I recall being quite passionate about that with God — use me. I am ready. I will go where you lead me.
But what happened next, I still didn’t see coming.
One night shortly after that prayer I came home and, having had a niggling of an idea earlier in the day, I casually poured a glass of wine and asked my husband, “What would you think if I went back to school and got a master’s in theology or in religious studies. Just for me, just because.” I, of course, still wasn’t even dreaming of anything more. Not even. My sweet husband looked at me and said, “I totally think you should. But I think you should go big, get your Master of Divinity, and get ordained.”
What in the actual heck?! You know that thing where you are just trying to grasp something that’s been said aloud and all you can do is set your glass of wine down and stare at the person who said it? That was me. This was so far out of the realm of our normal conversation that I was sort of duty-bound to pay attention, even as I kept looking at him like he’d grown a new eyeball. He felt it too. “Wait? Did I say that?” The air in the room expanded a little. Don’t get me wrong, there were no angels singing in the kitchen (though it’d have been super helpful if they’d appeared and made dinner for the kids…), but, looking back on it, I think this beautiful person who knows me better than anyone delivered a message from God that evening. See, I believe sometimes God offers a divine helping hand so we can help ourselves, friends, to get where God envisions us to be.
Real transformation comes when we move away from what we envision (’cause how’s that workin’ for you anyway?) to what God envisions. First, we have to get real about why we are holding on to our vision in the first place, then name our doubts and fears about trusting the divine, be willing to take a leap of faith, and then, finally, notice the hands gently nudging and guiding you somewhere new.
I had asked for God to use me, and she stretched out her hand and led.
Charla Belinski is a Colorado native. She is a tireless advocate for youth and families, and a quiet theologian. She went to seminary at Iliff School of Theology, graduated in June, and will be ordained in August.