While serving in one of the chaplaincies where I am involved, a young person told me, “That looks like fun. How do you get to be the chaplain?” I told him, “Well, first you go to college and then to seminary, then you have to have two years minimum of ministerial experience, then you get approved by a superior minister, and then you get accredited by the chaplain’s association.” His response was “Oh!” The ministry seemed to look easy…but it wasn’t.
I heard of a sea captain who had the owner of a steamship line on his boat in the pilot house. The owner noticed a man on the deck lounging in a hammock and reading a book. The owner commented, “Looks like he’s not doing any work. Are we paying him to read books?” The captain said, “That’s just where I want him; he’s the chief engineer and when he’s there, I know everything is working 100 percent below decks.” The engineer had his appropriate credentials, years of experience, knew where to look and what preventive maintenance to perform, how to keep the ship running. Looks can be deceiving!
In many situations, requirements keep people from fulfilling a goal that might seem satisfying to them. I’ve spoken to many over the years and have encouraged them to go on; exploring a potential career path and to be aware that “It can be a lot of work!”
One of the directors of a nursing school served on an advisory board with me and told me of those who came “with stars in their eyes.” Many, she said, came unprepared and could not effectively read or write. Her first task was to have them write something while in her office; “Why I want to be a nurse” or something like that. She then could get a rough idea about the likelihood of success in her program, which required lots of reading and writing assignments. She told me that many came with no idea about what it’s like to have to handle very undesirable “human byproducts” and that white uniforms get stained very easily by what comes from sick people. In spite of it all, many good students turned out to be good nurses; the experiences that took place during training were part of the “cost of admission” and the students who made it wanted it bad enough to persevere.
My seminary experience began with the largest class that had been accepted in many years; one calendar year later, it was the smallest class that had been enrolled for many years. Very few failed academically, some came with inaccurate images of just what ministry was about or did not like the requirements. Later, when in a supervisory ministry, we had students who didn’t want to go to seminary. One wanted to stay home and read books, missing out on the community formation that takes place in residence. Another told about the dean being very disagreeable and wanted to take a secular master’s degree in religion instead of going to his seminary. We disagreed; ministry involves getting along with disagreeable people and dealing with disciplines which may not be to your liking at times.
My question to people searching for their place in life is, “Do you want it bad enough to persevere?” “Are you willing to make some sacrifices and do the hard stuff?” “Can you keep your goals in mind and see them as worth it all?”
There is an account in the Gospel of Mark about a paralytic and Jesus healing him (Mark 2:1ff). Jesus had gone to Capernaum and there was no room for more people. A paralytic had heard of Jesus and the healing He brought; persuaded four friends to carry him to where Jesus was so that he, too, might be healed. When they got there “they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd (v.4), they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on (v.4).” This was a paralytic that wasn’t going to take “no” for an answer! Jesus was moved and said “Son, your sins are forgiven (v.5)”
Healing comes, but not in the way expected. The pronouncement had to do with sinning and not healing; people around are critical of Jesus for His way of going about the healing and He responds. Healing takes place because “the Son of Man has authority on Earth to forgive sins (v.10).” The formation involved with the healing, what the man learned along the way, was different than he expected. He stayed the course, was healed and Jesus tells him “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home (v. 11).”
Healing comes through determination, willingness to go along with something different than the expected usual pronouncement, and knowing that being a better person at the end is worth it all. Our own growing comes when we’re ready to make the sacrifices needed to enter into a greater life that will bring greater rewards and seeing that the sacrifices are worth it all.
Here at home, high school graduation is now over for another year. Graduates soon will be off to prepare for the next steps in their lives. The education-training-formation that will take place will demand something of them. The cost of admission may very likely be “a lot of hard work and sacrifice.” Is it worth it? Yes. Can you do it? That’s up to you and nobody else!
By The Reverend Samuel S. Thomas, Ph. D.+
Saint Martin’s Church, Clewiston