Fear and Courage: Companions on the Journey
Doubt and fear guided my decisions for much of my life.
I always wanted to be in ministry. But, as a female in the Churches of Christ, I thought formal ministry wasn't possible. After chaperoning a church youth trip, I couldn't deny my calling anymore. I remember sitting at home, talking on the phone, crying. I had to go back to teaching first graders in the morning. It wasn't fair to me, and it most definitely wasn't fair to those little kids.
With fear that made me sick to my stomach, I leaned into my doubts, and I applied to seminary. I feared what people in my church would think of me. Would my own family support me? What would I even do with my degree? I couldn't imagine preaching, so maybe I'd be a youth minister. Could a female youth minister be as effective as a male?
My doubts made me so uncomfortable that I told myself I would go to seminary just to figure out what I believed about women in ministry, even though deep down, I already trusted God's call to ministry. Shortly after, an opportunity to step into a youth ministry position presented itself. I decided to lean even further into my doubt. I told myself that I needed to be courageous and not close doors that had been opened to me. I'm so glad I did!
Fast forward a few years. I'm married, I'm no longer a youth minister, and I've almost completed two years of service in the United States Peace Corps in South America. While lying in a hammock next to Travis, my husband, we engaged in a common game of imagining where we would be and what we would be doing when we returned to the States.
At this point, I was jaded by ministry due to the struggles I faced in the church as a female minister. I didn't desire to return to church ministry. I thought I would return to the States and just find a job, any job. Travis encouraged me to put my seminary degree to work.
It was then, that hot and humid day in my hammock, that I realized that maybe God had been using people to guide me all along. During seminary, many people told me I'd be a great chaplain. Travis told me for many years that I should consider chaplaincy. In the Peace Corps, I was selected by my fellow volunteers to be their Peer Support Volunteer (a chaplain of sorts). I finally realized that maybe people saw something in me that I had yet to recognize in myself.
I applied for Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), which is the first step of training needed to become a hospital chaplain. Again, I would just see what I thought about it.
Little did I know at the time that I would fall in love with this vocation. It is such a privilege to walk alongside people in some of their darkest and most difficult moments in life. To support someone emotionally and spiritually during these challenging times is truly sacred work. It's a gift that fills my life with purpose and meaning every day.
I now say with confidence that God has called me to ministry.
My biggest fear going into CPE was that people would ask me theological questions and that I wouldn't have the "right" answers. I've learned that I don't have to provide all the answers. Instead, this ministry includes walking alongside people as they ask questions and seek answers. This sacred work means exploring their questions, what they're thinking, and helping process their beliefs, doubts, hopes, and so on.
Another thing I learned in CPE is the importance of listening to and learning from patients, colleagues, and others. During CPE, I met with my colleagues often, and we talked about our successes and challenges in ministry, including our childhoods, our families, our traumas, our faiths, and our doubts. Through these relationships of trust with my colleagues and the vulnerability they invited, God increased my capacity for courage each time I leaned into my doubts and fears.
Thanks be to God for colleagues who saw the real me. Now, when I have doubts and fears about trying something new, I am reminded that God calls me to be courageous. In the process of just trying something new, I can learn about myself and my abilities; but even more, I learn about courageously living into God's calling. When asked to take a leadership role, I lean in because it will challenge me and help me grow. And it might even lead to me living into God's calling more fully. When asked to be the first female to preach at a Church of Christ, I said, "yes!" What an honor and how cool (and who knew that I really enjoy preaching)!
Thanks to my newfound courage to lean into doubts and fears, I am now a pediatric chaplain at a world-renowned hospital. And to think...I initially didn't want to apply because my doubts and fears told me I couldn't do it.
My spiritual journey has been marked by recognizing and accepting the gifts God has given me. Doubt and fear creep up uninvited. They make an all-too-convincing case. Yet, I've learned the power of courageously living into God's calling.
As a teenager, the song "Be Strong and Courageous" was a favorite in my youth group. It was also a favorite during that youth group trip I chaperoned where God so clearly put the calling of ministry on my heart. This song, based on Deuteronomy 31:6, gives me courage to face my fears. I look back and notice how God has been speaking to me for years, inching me closer and closer to live into my calling. I'm learning daily to push through my fears and be courageous.
May God grant you courage.
|Harmony Hill-Weber (Seaver, 2006; Fuller Theological Seminary, 2010) fulfilled a lifelong dream of serving with her husband, Travis, in the US Peace Corps, teaching elementary school in Guyana. As a pediatric chaplain, Harmony has one of the world's best jobs spending her days with the most amazing kids at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, TN. Harmony enjoys family time, snuggles with her 3-year-old daughter, and all the ice cream.|