I spent over almost two years as a church secretary. I was nearing graduation from the ministry school and praying for future direction. One day, the vice president of the ministry asked to meet with me. He offered me a position to serve as a pastor within the school and a few opportunities to teach. I was elated. Finally, I felt as though God had answered the desire of my heart to serve Him full-time in the ministry. Ironically, I never thought of being a church secretary as being in "full-time ministry" or when I was working in a secular job, as a place to serve God. I still had narrow definitions when it came to what "serving God" meant and had unknowingly assigned a scale of importance to each area.
The offer of this new position quickly made its rounds within the church and ministry. Many congratulated me and quite a few women fluttered around me to declare that finally, women were being taken "seriously" as an equal partner in the ministry. I held all of these expectations carefully in my heart. On one hand, I had yearned for years for this very moment -- to have the opportunity to pastor. On the other hand, I did not want to give in to what was called "The Jezebel Spirit," which was to be controlling and manipulative. I knew I had to have God's guidance and stepped up my requests for His wisdom.
There was a man who previously held the position I was inheriting. In fact, I learned that he had been "let go" because he simply didn't fit in with the ministry culture. If you've ever worked in a corporate environment that made you feel uncomfortable, there is a good chance you were incompatible with that company. The same can be said of ministries. There are some who fit and others who don't. Many times there are personality conflicts and as much as we'd like to believe that everyone gets along within a ministry, nothing could be further from the truth. I witnessed staff members getting fired or harassed until they quit. One poor man was fired and the senior administration insisted on giving him a "going away" party. His wife fumed on the couch as we waited for the catered lunch. Such treatment was not uncommon.
Back to the man who held this position before me. He was on the Leadership Team. This team consisted of the senior pastor and several associate pastors. None of them were women. When I was hired to fill this position, I expected to be added to the team. However, this did not happen. It was another opportunity for the enemy to twist the knife of rejection in me, assuring me that I wasn't worthy for such a place of honor. I believed these lies only in the most secret place of my heart. Instead, I tried to focus on God's plan for my life and His perfect timing in all things. If I was meant to be on the Leadership Team, I would be. All I needed to do was be patient and wait on God. He had brought me this far, I thought. Why not to the Leadership Team, too?
After two years, I was formally ordained within the church. It was presented as nothing more than "acknowledging what God was already doing within my life," but the women in the church and the women students of the school looked at it as a breakthrough for women. Afterward, I had an increase of women students who formed a consistent line to my office, seeking their day in "spiritual court."
One woman said with exasperation, "When is it going to be my turn? When am I going to be invited to speak at churches, conferences and retreats? I'm so tired of waiting!" I remember encouraging her to wait until God opened doors for her. If she became impatient and tried to force open the doors, then she'd never realize if it was God doing it or her own stubborn ways. She walked away still feeling frustrated.
Some of the woman wanted me to be their mouthpiece, appealing to the senior pastor and associates that for all their talk about recognizing women in the ministry, there was little evidence of it. I was placed in the delicate position of upholding my loyalty and trust in the ministry's leadership while diffusing the unrest of those who were unhappy. It didn't help when a trusted advisor whispered to me at one of the church services that she had watched me walk up the aisle and noticed some people's faces as they looked at me.
"You know what I saw? Jealousy and envy. Pray for protection. I'm already praying this for you." After she walked away, I couldn't help but think -- Jealous? If they only knew.
Within a few years, I started to feel like a young girl who had outgrown a party dress. The things I had thought were so important started to fade away. The more I saw of the ministry, the less I was convinced I was to be a part of it, at least within that particular ministry. Fr. Corapi once said that never had he encountered in the world the level of hatred he received within the Church. I have thought for quite awhile that the admonitions and exhortations in the Bible to love our enemies is not for loving those who are in the world, but for loving our enemies in the church.
I had plenty of opportunity to love and forgive during those years. Sometimes I was victorious with the grace of God. Other times I failed. But through it all, I learned some very important lessons. The most important one, was dying to self.
In 2000, I was starting to experience the early stages of burn-out. I wasn't sure what was next for me, but I suspected my time at the ministry school was coming to a close. It climaxed with a heartless experience with an associate pastor, who coldly told me that my recommendation for a book resource for the upcoming new class of students was not only unacceptable, but just wrong. I suppose it was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. That was the moment I decided it was time to leave.
That experience was followed up by another associate pastor visiting me in my office, "warning" me that I didn't want to get on the "bad side" of the other pastor. I assured him I wanted nothing of the sort to happen and that I genuinely thought the book would be of great benefit to the students. He nodded and smiled. And then, as though offering a bribe of candy to a scolded child, said, "You know, there are plans being made to ask you to be a part of the Leadership Team."
And there it was. The one thing I had yearned for since I had first joined the school was being dangled in front of me like a big, juicy carrot. I would be the first woman formally accepted as part of the team. How amazing. The women would finally see that they were really being taken seriously. And... how suddenly irrelevant it all was. The fact of the matter was, I no longer cared about it, nor wanted it. I smiled at him and said something trivial. He ended his visit and I sat there, pondering the journey I had taken and how it led me to a very surprising conclusion.
Somehow, I knew that if I had become part of the Leadership Team, it wouldn't stop there. My desire would be for greater and greater platforms of recognition. I would seek to become a spiritual teacher to hundreds, then thousands, then perhaps tens of thousands. I could see myself saying that I wanted to make a difference, but such a desire is a two-edged sword. I remembered reading the biographies of famous men and women evangelists who traveled non-stop throughout the world, preaching the Gospel and healing the sick. Most of them died at an early age from sheer exhaustion.
Those who are called to ministry are called to a life of sacrifice. I never saw it more clearly than when I was involved in the school of ministry. Just before I reached the decision of leaving, I was starting to experience a little of that "rock star" phenomenon where people would seek me for prayer and words of encouragement. It can be very draining. It also can lead one to assume that people are coming to them for their own spiritual gifts and not give glory to God. Truly, we are channels of His grace. If there is any good that comes from us, it is only by His hand that it is given.
I left the school and moved back home at the end of 2000. I met my husband in 2001 and married him months later. I had no desire to return to ministry. In fact, I think it's safe to say I was burned-out so thoroughly that church attendance, which before had been vital to my life, was avoided. From 2001 - mid-2007, I stayed at home on most Sundays. I tried to visit several churches, but felt restless in each one. I tried visiting the non-denominational churches but had no interest in getting on that hectic roller-coaster ministry ride again.
After my mother passed away in 2007 -- astonishingly, I discovered I was able to sit through Mass and feel peace and restoration, not anxiety. It was a surprise that still fills me with joy even to this day. I know I've been abundantly blessed and God has extended an enormous amount of grace to me. Words will never be able to describe my gratitude.
To end this little story, I would like to return to the priesthood, and how some women feel as though they've been left out of such an influential position. I think many of us know that if women became priests, many would not be satisfied. Next would be the pursuit of becoming a bishop, then an archbishop, and then, a cardinal. Finally, we would witness the demand and pressure that the College of Cardinals would elect a woman as Pope. I pray we never see such a thing.
If women could take a peek within the life of a priest (or a bishop, archbishop, or cardinal), they would quickly see that it is not a life of glory. It is a life of long hours, constant demands, emotionally needy people grasping for you, angry people upset with you, worries and concerns that you may not be meeting the needs of your flock, hidden guilt that you're not doing enough, nights spent in prayer asking God for the grace to love the unlovable and forgive the cruel, carefully dancing in the political arena as some plot your downfall and others appear to be trusted friends while stabbing you in the back.
And the loneliness... Serving daily while not having a spouse at home who can encourage you or fix you a nice, hot meal. These are the number of sacrifices a priest makes and there are many more. But most priests will say they can't imagine it being any different. They couldn't imagine trying to be a spouse or being happy in a secular job. Praise be to God for calling these men into His service! There is sacrifice, yes, but there is also unspeakable joy in doing the will of our heavenly Father. This is the place we all must find, that place where we seek God's will in our lives. When we find it, we find peace.
So when I look at the women clamoring to be ordained as priests, I do not see women who are filled with peace. I see women who are caught up in what used to bind me -- the desire for recognition and validation. But even if they ever receive a "badge," it will never be enough. As long as we seek power and the admiration of man, we will always be unsatisfied. Only by giving up everything, including our own dreams, will we find His peace.
And sometimes, when you do get the dream, you just might find it isn't all that you'd thought it would be.