Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ash Wednesday or A Year in the Wilderness

A year ago (liturgically), I lost my job. A job that had seemed perfect on paper – advocating for sexual health and reproductive justice within a religious context. Being a voice for progressive religious organizations in a multi-faith context. Sure, the location wasn’t ideal, but I was willing to make it work for this amazing opportunity. I lost the job only a few weeks after getting it due to financial circumstances for the organization that were beyond anyone’s control. I lost my job on Ash Wednesday, a few weeks before I was set to go to Israel and Palestine for the second time to attend a conference on the conflict. As someone who, for better or worse, makes sense of their life liturgically and theologically, it was as if I had been thrown into the wilderness with no support. I remember calling my parents in tears, texting my roommate, waiting for my aunt & uncle to come home so I could tell them. It was nothing I did and yet I felt like an incredible failure. It was a month before my thirtieth birthday and I was, once again, unemployed.

The weeks I had at that job were amazing and stressful. I learned I didn’t hate policy as much as I thought I did, I learned the fast-paced environment of responding to current events and legislation sated my adrenaline junkie. I learned how to spin information for social media and I got the chance to work with some really amazing people. And I will never forget the moment of “White House on line one, New York Times on line two” that made me realize what we were doing mattered.

A year later, on Ash Wednesday, I am once again unemployed. I have come in second and third for some amazing jobs that went to equally amazing people. I have worked temp jobs, babysat. I’ve now applied for graduate school (again) and I keep searching, hoping, praying, to find that opportunity that will lead me out of the wilderness, out of the cloud of unknowing.

There have been moments of respite, certainly, but it often feels like much of the past year has been spent wandering in the wilderness, with clarity about vocation simply a mirage that disappears when I try to get close. It has been a struggle in discernment, trying to juggle finding a way to pay the bills alongside finding where God is leading me. There were (and are) numerous times I have felt lost and hopeless, wondering at what point perseverance becomes stubbornness and obstinance?

I have been blessed to have incredible support from family members who have tried to give me the space to struggle and wander while keeping up the guise of independence, but such things cannot last forever and as financial concerns weigh more heavily on my mind I’m torn between trying to follow my dreams against all odds and just giving up. The wilderness is a struggle. There are overwhelming temptations, but what is worse to me, is the length of time one can be in the wilderness. If one knew when the end was, if it was a finite amount of time, it would be easier to bear. But the indeterminate wilderness? I don’t enjoy it. (Yes, I realize you’re not supposed to enjoy the wilderness). I don’t like not knowing when something will end, especially when each series of cover letters and resumes and applications seem like exercises in vulnerability, trying to sell myself while putting myself at the mercy of others. I want more control than that. I want boundaries on my wilderness. I want to know that this too shall pass and ‘All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.’ Because the longer the wilderness goes on, the greater the doubt, the notion that my vocation is just an illusion I’ve created in my head.

Last Lent, I had the privilege to stand on the edge of a sand dune in the Judean desert, eyes closed, sun setting as a Minister read the account of Jesus’ temptation in the dessert. I was overwhelmed to be in this spot, to have my surroundings match my mental and spiritual state. Glancing around there, I saw how easy it would be to get lost in the desert. As I enter into Lent this year, I feel the need to remind myself of the end of the story, “Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him” (Matthew 4:11). Somewhere, sometime, this wilderness will end and I can only hope there will be angels there for me.