Why would you do that?!

Image“Why would you do that!?”

This was the reaction a friend had when I told him I was going to grad school to study divinity.

First, I had to explain what “that” meant. I would be studying theology and ministry in the hopes of becoming a chaplain. Then I had to explain what a chaplain was; a person of a specific faith/denomination who is assigned to/works with institutions like hospitals, a military unit, police departments or non-profits in order to provide spiritual guidance and support to the people in/accessing the institution. It’s a minister who walks with people through (extra)ordinary circumstances; who is there when life fails to make sense, or is too hard to handle.

giphyIt’s a vocation that places a person into the position of a rock in the rapids.

His reaction makes a good point. It’s not a lucrative career; I’ll not be making a six figure salary. It’s not something you hear little kids talk about when you ask them, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s a lot of studying, writing papers, interning and discerning. Chaplains have told me that it’s long hours into the night and questioning every step of the way. On the surface, it seems to be work that has a lot of cost and not very much reward.

watchingsadlyBecause, why would I decide on a career with only mediocre earning potential? Why would I want to listen to other people’s problems? Why would I want to potentially surround myself with death, disease, homelessness, addiction, mental illness, violence and broken humanity?

This is why I struggle with explaining my decision to friends and family. On paper, it seems insane. Heck, typing it out into a blog it sounds insane. But I see a problem in weighing the worth of work solely based on material reward. I try not to buy into the cookie cutter American consumer mold; work so I can buy stuff that will eventually break so I need to work more in order to buy better stuff to replace the stuff I already have. How do you explain a feeling of “being called,” or for the less spiritually inclined, feeling like what you are doing “fits” with what you want/need/require of life?

light-end-tunnelI feel like I can be the person who holds a dying person’s hand as they take their last breath. I want to be the person who can sit and weep with the mother who just lost her child. I need to be the person who can be present with the man who has lost his faith. I can be available to my fellow human being who is hurting, share that dark tunnel journey with them, and walk out out the other end with them into the light again.

It’s not about the 6-figure salary. It’s not about notoriety. It’s not about buying all the things. It’s about finding a way I can be of service to others. It’s about creating a meaning in the work I am doing. It about that strange feeling in the pit of my gut that tells me “this feels right; you are where you need to be.”

FlippantFreshEkaltadetaI’m terrified I could be wrong. I’ve gone down this path before; I’ve been in seminary and felt the call only to end up losing my faith and finding another. But, just like then, I have to give it a try. I have to walk down this path to see where it goes. I don’t want to be at the end of my life, regretting that I didn’t just give it a try.

I don’t expect people to understand; but at least I have family and friends who, even if they don’t agree with me, will take this journey with me. They’re my chaplains without even knowing it.

4 thoughts on “Why would you do that?!

  1. vicki gisler

    Dear Cousin,
    Wow, seems you’ve been guided by the divine for years to me. It always amazes me, you’ve the drive and free spirit to follow your dreams. I am so full of respect and joy for you in always living up to your own. What incredible parents you and Heather are going to be. I love being able to follow your journey via the internet. We are so much closer than you know. 🙂 or do you?
    Love you. Vicki


    1. Hi Vicki! Thank you so much for the kind words! I really appreciate it coming from you. 🙂 We’re only just us the coast from you… not so far at all. Many prayers and thoughts your way!


  2. UUnderstand

    Dear Justin:
    Have you ever read “Go Out in Joy!” by Nina Hermann (now Nina Hermann Donnelly)? It’s a book that was written in the 1970s about a divinity student’s CPE experience working with children, their families, and physicians/medical staff in a metropolitan university hospital. While generally out of print, it’s available from used-book reselling sites like biblio.com:
    Of note, Reverend Hermann Donnelly was a television journalist before she decided to attend divinity school, so she had a career that was financially lucrative and attracted above-average personal attention prior to entering the ministry.
    You may also be interested in “The Voice That Calls You Home” by Andrea Raynor:
    If you read these two books,” you may be more likely to feel that your answered calling (as opposed to just a chosen career) is not “wrong,” no matter what doubters and other detractors may say.


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