I Want to Be an Adjective When I Grow Up

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This summer, I’m on a study leave from Disability Concerns, doing Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services. CPE provides training in soul care using an action/reflection model, encouraging students to do a great deal of self-reflection so that they are better equipped to be fully present with the people with whom they are ministering.

During a few minutes of free time this past week, a fellow CPE student, Seong Won, and I were talking about our CPE experiences. She asked me whether CPE has changed since I took my last unit 32 years ago. I told her that as far as I remember, the structure of CPE hasn’t changed much at all, but I’ve changed a great deal. Naturally, she followed up with, “How have you changed?”

CPE is a good place to ask and begin answering that question, because CPE requires so much self-reflection, and builds in guidance for that process of self-reflection. I told Seong Won that I am much more aware of my emotions than I had been previously, and I told her that questions of identity, which were so central to my CPE experience last time weren’t central for me now.

The more I think about her question, though, the more I think that identity remains a central question for me, but the answer takes a different form.

Throughout my teens and twenties, I devoted considerable time and resources trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. I only considered answers to that question that came in the form of nouns: chemist, psychologist, math teacher, pastor. Even after settling on “pastor”, I wanted to understand better what “pastor” meant as embodied in my life. By the time I was ordained in 1989, I had a fat folder of materials I had collected under the title “Pastoral Identity”.

I expect to retire sometime in the next decade. No one asks me anymore what I want to be when I grow up, nor have I asked myself that question. Yet, confronted with it, I’m realizing that the question remains important to me. The answer takes a new form, though, no longer noun but adjective. What do I want to be when I grow up? Several adjectives, actually, including joyful, peaceful, kind, humble, gentle, courageous, compassionate, persistent, wise, empathic, and patient.

Besides “pastor” I want to continue to be several other nouns as well including husband, father, grandfather, brother, leader, friend, volunteer, board member, writer, and more. I don’t expect those roles to change much now that I’m in the third third of my life, but I hope I’ll keep growing in character in my fulfillment of those roles.  

I’ve tried to grow in godly character throughout my life, but I feel more urgent about this growth now. I have fewer years left! In my remaining years I hope I continue to have a variety of roles, living out the various callings with which God has honored me, and I pray that I will continue to grow in godly character as I fulfill them.

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Thanks very much for your reflections, Mark.  It strikes me as an important question for all peoples, living with or without a disability.  Instead of displaying our credentials/titles which the world seems to value/uplift, how might we display our holy living as a follower of Jesus - responding to what God calls us to be.  Often, it is tempting to identify myself as ordained/in a particular role/where I've attended school so folks treat me "well" and not make assumptions about my dis/abilities - but it is much more effective if they have time to see how I strive to live (listening with compassion, joking with humour, supporting with love) as well as the nouns I hold!  Thank you.