What Do I Want To Do When I Grow Up?

On my way to work one morning this week, I was thinking about my professional life. I was late to the game of finding out what I want to do when I grow up. For years, I was a stay-at-home parent who loved the freedom and flexibility to parent the way I wanted. I also used the time to grow mentally, emotionally and spiritually, and learn how to best take care of me while also caring for my kids.

One of the things I did regularly during this time was meet a friend for coffee. It was cheap and the conversation was often enjoyable. I typically had coffee dates booked weeks in advance. My husband would say, “If you could get paid for having coffee with a friend, you’d have a nice side business.” As I considered his observation, I realized many of my coffee dates were with friends seeking advice. However, it did not seem right to charge my friends. “Judy, I enjoyed our time together this afternoon. That will be $65 please. Cash or check would be fine.”

As my kids got older, I continued to ask myself what I wanted to do professionally. I did not have a college degree or an identified passion to pursue, so it was not an easy question to answer. I went back to work, but soon learned it was not the job or the career for me long term.

Fast-forward 10 years. I have a master’s degree and am a Board Certified hospital Chaplain. My skills of coming alongside someone have strengthened with education and experience. I am now getting paid to have thoughtful, deep conversations. I love what I do, but it is not all that I want to do. Once again, I am asking myself, “What’s next?”

Some of the things I have learned about my professional self – strengths and growing edges (as we say in chaplaincy because “growing edges” sounds better than “weaknesses”):

1.       I love thinking about what is possible, how something could be improved, or ways to address an identified problem. While those around me often seem to respond with annoyance or disinterest, I become energized and want to jump right in. My husband will confirm, I have never met a scenario I did not want to improve.

2.       I am creative. This took me a long time to learn about myself. I married an artist and both of my kids have strong artistic talent. Therefore, I assumed my lack of drawing, painting or musical skills meant I was not creative. It also did not help that for years my mom would ask, “Where did your kids get their artistic talent from? I mean, it couldn’t be from you.” So I identified as the analytical one and left the creativity to the artists in the family… until I began to see that I, too, am creative. This not only impacted the way I see myself, but also how I express myself.

3.       I am an agitator. I do not agitate simply for the sake of being an annoyance. When something is not working to the point of creating dysfunction, I do not keep my mouth shut. I am going to say something. Probably more than once. To anyone who will listen. I am learning (AKA a growing edge) to do so more appropriately, helpfully, and kindly. I am also learning to discern when it is better for me to leave the situation than to address what is happening.

I think I have best used these skills as a parent. I love my kids more selflessly than I love others. I have their best interest at heart. I dose everything with a lot of love. I wish this was true in my other relationships, or more true. I’m working on it. (Growing edge.)

But this post is meant to be about my professional life. 

My current job delves deeply into the personal. My training has solidified healthy, appropriate boundaries and restorative self-care practices. Part of me wants to venture more into a professional space where I have a say on culture, function, vision and sustainability. And to be able to do these things with resources sounds very appealing. Would I be good at it? Can I build a healthy foundation professionally the way I have done personally with my kids?

I could have started school earlier and begun the process of building my professional self. But I now see ways I was working on who I am professionally. I did a lot of volunteering during the parenting years and honed my skills. I learned what I like and what I do well. I also learned what I do not enjoy and what I do not do so well. My professional path has been less like a race track, and more like a long walk in the woods. Come to think of it, that suits me much better.

What do I want to do when I grow up? Not sure. I think I’ll just keep walking. Meandering even. Seems to suit me well.

A Sabbath Practice

I grew up in a faith tradition that taught Sunday, the Sabbath, was a day of rest. But in my experience, there wasn’t much rest. We had to get up for Sunday School, then church followed by lunch with church friends. By the time we got home, I was so tired that I barely had time to rest from all the activity, let alone from the six days before.

In hindsight, it’s a pretty funny contradiction – teaching the principles Sabbath on the Sabbath to the same group of people pressured to attend, serve, and commune. It wasn’t until I left traditional church that I actually experienced a regular, weekly Sabbath.

Sabbath began as a Jewish practice. According to Genesis, the first book of the Bible, God created the world in six days and rested on day seven. God named the day of rest “holy” and instructed the people to follow suit. Jews practice Sabbath on Saturday. Christians changed the Sabbath to Sunday, since Sunday is the day that the resurrection of Jesus is celebrated.

It’s not that a Sabbath has to be a specific day of the week. But if we don’t dedicate a chunk of time to rest, it’s probably not going to happen. There’s too much to do and that list will never take care of itself.

For me, Sabbath is a practice of slowing everything down – my pace, my thoughts, my responsibilities. Our typically hurried state of being and intense stimulation tend to crowd the space we inhabit, making it difficult to hear and see within and around ourselves. Sabbath is an invitation to stop, look, listen, breathe, and rest.

I don’t practice Sabbath like the Jewish tradition of not working for 24 hours. And I don’t practice like many Christians do of going to church. Instead I devote one or two mornings a week to keep my schedule clear so that I can spend the time tending to all my senses. It is 4-5 hours of no expectation and no obligation. There are things that still get done, like taking care of my dogs. But I don’t ask myself, “What should I be doing?” Sabbath is my break from that question that plagues many of us day in and day out.

Rest can be difficult though, if we aren’t used to stopping. I often hear people express guilt over not doing something. Our culture values what we do/produce/accomplish. As for rest? Well, that’s for when the job settles down or the kids get older or we get older. Even vacations are busy for most of us.

Sabbath is sometimes painful. What I see and hear may not be what I want to know. The space created doesn’t always feel nurturing, but rather intimidating or lonely. Not returning to that To Do list is hard. Honoring Sabbath means saying no, sometimes to things I want to do.

However I have experienced many benefits because of my Sabbath practice. My resilience has increased. I feel more myself, fully myself, connected, content and focused. I have an improving awareness of what’s going on around me. My experience and understanding of what is sacred deepens. My values and priorities become clearer. And all of this, paradoxically, because I am not trying to do any of this.

Thank God for the Sabbath. Literally.

The Damage of Patriarchy

I grew up with a pretty strong sense of self. Confidence was never an issue. I had plenty of other issues – still do. But my default is to believe I have a right to be heard, a perspective worth sharing, and a contribution worth receiving. It’s not that I don’t question myself, but rather I don’t question my value. The struggle through my life has not been “Do I belong?” – but rather “How do I fit?” This perspective is presumptive, I realize. There are times I don’t fit, and that’s okay. Sometimes when I don’t fit, that hurts. And sometimes it makes sense. But my perspective is also empowering.

As a woman in a patriarchal society who grew up in a conservative culture where women were third in line (God – Man – Woman), my presumption made me bold. I ignored the glass ceilings. I was helped by a mother who rejected this nonsense, and a father who didn’t try to limit my contributions to the world. For many years, I thought I had avoided the trappings of patriarchy. I made my own way, and that was proof.

It wasn’t until seminary and a class on feminism and the Bible, that I realized how much I was influenced by patriarchal values. For example, until my 30’s I held a general distrust of women. I considered most to be petty and disloyal. As I sought to deepen friendships with women, I learned my assumptions were often not true. I began to wonder how much of my assumption had been based on experience, and how much had been absorbed by a patriarchal narrative. The more I thought about it and the more I heard how other women talk about women, the more I concluded that many of us were doing exactly what patriarchy wanted us to do: distrust one another; compete with each other; destroy one another. Patriarchy is strengthened when women do not come together.

Another realization during this class was to see how I had tempered my strengths when working with men. I thought specifically of a time when I had served on a church board. I often went head-to-head with a man, a successful business man. My internal monologue always accompanied the external dialogue with this man: “Don’t get too far ahead of him.” “Don’t say something that will make him feel dumb.” At the time, I justified my actions by seeing him as the weaker one. But now I was seeing this as my felt responsibility to manage his feelings. Certainly I had a responsibility to be collaborative and kind. But I was going far beyond that as I sought to prevent him from feeling inferior to me, as if that was my responsibility.

Some changes I’ve made:

  1. I no longer use gender when I speak of or to God. I have learned how humanizing God, or worse yet making God male, only makes the idea of God manageable and safe. Now that God is not limited to my understanding of men or people, the idea of God has expanded significantly. God is not meant to be managed or manipulated.
  2. I no longer feel the responsibility to manage a man’s ego. I expect him to manage his own and instead focus on being my best self. This has been both freeing and empowering. I am still learning to identify and pursue what I need. But I am learning to build a life that is meaningful for me, not just for those around me.
  3. I support the right for women to make their own choices about their bodies. I believe there are important conversations to have about reproductive decisions, and that should occur between a woman and her doctor. Restricting those decisions is the same as saying women cannot make thoughtful, difficult decisions for themselves.
  4. I acknowledge the pain and damage patriarchy has caused other groups, and how I’ve contributed to their pain. I think particularly of People of Color and the LGBTQ communities. The more I have freed myself from patriarchal thinking, the more clearly I see their pain, and the better ally I become.

My experience has been that there’s an ongoing conversation among women about how fragile men are. And we use this perceived fragility to ignore our needs and wants. As gender and sexuality become increasingly fluid, I see the potential to not only water down the patriarchal nonsense, but to eliminate it altogether. Perhaps that’s why some are feeling frightened and reactive. What has long been considered normative is being challenged and replaced. And that is scary for those who don’t know anything different.

I’m not trying to hate on men. I am trying to point out the danger of unchecked power. Patriarchy is a system that has named “men in power” as the normative. And in this country, specifically white, Christian, heterosexual men. So we are not just talking patriarchy, but also Christian nationalism. And that’s for another blog post.

Power is seductive, and seems to cause most to use it selfishly. The best way to prevent the abuse of power is to share it with diverse voices and perspectives. With the recent US Supreme Court decisions, it feels as if we’re moving backward, not forward, by reducing that diversity. I hope it’s patriarchy’s final “Hail, Mary” attempt. They’re in a losing battle and I think they know it. For those of us who reject patriarchy, let us not lose hope.