The Call to Ministry Is Not What We Imagine
A Hope for the Helpers Blog
By Tracy K. Pratt
Our call came August 20, 1993.
The day before the phone rang in the kitchen. I paused mid-sentence in our school room over the garage. Did I need to stop teaching and run down to answer? It stopped on the third ring. I heard Coleman’s “Hello?” I resumed teaching with one ear tuned to his long conversation humming in the background. Who was that on the phone?
A friend from our former church called on official business. They were without a pastor. In our four-year absence, three pastors had come and gone. The pastor under whom Coleman had served had left more than a year before our move. Because Coleman had been their acting pastor and because of our five years there, he had earned their trust.
“Coleman, would you consider submitting your resume? We love you. We know you. Trust you. But, please, please, do not send it unless you are absolutely sure this is what God wants for you and your family. The disappointment would be crushing if you changed your mind.”
The phone call left both of us confused. There was no doubt God had opened doors for us to move out of state for Coleman to attend seminary. That night Coleman and I prayed for clarity.
In the morning, he opened his Bible to Genesis 31, that day’s Old Testament reading. He came to “And God said to Jacob” (Genesis 31:3a). Coleman whispered “Please, God, would you be that clear to me, as you were with Jacob?” He continued reading, “Return to the land of your birth, and I will be with you” (Genesis 31:3b).
The church was in the city where Coleman was born and grew up. His parents still lived there. Was this coincidental? Was he reading something into this? He continued reading but stopped on verse 13.
“I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar, where you made a vow to me. Now arise, leave this land, and return to the land of your birth.”
This church had been the place where he was ordained and called to seminary.
Coleman bounded upstairs. He raced into the schoolroom, eyes wide. He interrupted my teaching: “Tracy, listen to what I read in today’s reading.” My eyes widened as he read. How much clearer could God’s answer be? Of course he should submit his resume.
The first two years of our return were a honeymoon. Then the unraveling began. Slowly, ever so slowly, criticism seeped through the congregation. An unchecked spirit of dissent grew. Distrust poisoned Coleman’s reputation. I watched people I loved leave
without a word to either of us.
In early December of our eighth year into the call, I read Psalm 88. The footnotes describe it as “saddest psalm in the Psalter.”
“You have put me in the lowest pit…
Your wrath lies heavily upon me…
You have taken from me my closest friends
and have made me repulsive to them… “ (vs. 6-9 ESV)
I wrote in the margin: “A darkness is over us in the family and in the ministry. Coleman is at his lowest point in our twenty-two years of marriage.” This was not what I imagined “I will be with you” would look like. Did God not bring Coleman to rescue the church?
About the same time, I discovered this prayer by Henri Nouwen’s mentor:
“May all your expectations be frustrated
May all your plans be thwarted
May all you desires be withered into nothingness
That you may experience the powerlessness and poverty of a child
And sing and dance in the love of God
Who is the Father, Son, and Spirit.”1
I knew in this ministry the powerlessness and poverty of a child. My expectation that Coleman be the church’s messiah was frustrated. I ranted instead of sang, stomped instead of danced. My demand that the Trinity do more than be with him – to be with us – spilled out in my journal in criticism and grief.
One morning, I read Psalm 131 (ESV):
O LORD, my heart is not lifted up;
My eyes are not raised too high;
My heart is not proud, Lord,
My eyes are not haughty;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
Like a weaned child with its mother;
Like a weaned child is my soul within me.
Calm my soul? Accept God’s “No” to my demand that Coleman’s reputation be vindicated and the critics be silenced? Was I willing to do that? What would it look like to quiet my soul? Stop squirming, and settle in God’s lap. Lean in. Follow His heartbeat.
Did the circumstances change? Yes, for worse and better. Coleman and I stayed another seventeen years because His call to be with us had become enough.
And now, when circumstances are dark, hard, or grievous (and they have been and will be), and I fuss, I have a choice. Shall I clutch my demand or toss it into the wind of trust? He does say He is with us. If I choose the latter response, I can rest in God’s lap and dance clumsily in his love.
(Ragamuffin Gospel, Harvest House Publishers, 2000), p 42 1
Tracy K. Pratt loves “just-you-and-me” time with her husband, Coleman, and her other four favorite people, their son and his family, Dunkin Donuts coffee (with one pump of caramel), hiking, trying something once, and the good story of God unfolding in our imperfect ones. Twenty-five of their thirty-three years in vocational ministry were as pastor and wife in Orlando, FL.
Tracy’s is a mixed-media artist who creates art to inspire hope and beauty in heart and home. Her work celebrates the beauty of the small, passé, and broken in our lives. Her message is built on a thirty-three-year span as a caregiver to three family members. One was her daughter, Hannah, who died at age twenty-four after a life-long battle with cystic fibrosis. She provides spiritual direction, healthy habits, and community online at Artful Grief Care to family caregivers in their journey of anticipatory grief.