More often than not, I think our faith is tested in ways that we can’t understand, personally, professionally, on a large and on a small scale. I’m realizing, as the years pass, that there’s no perfect way to handle challenges, yet, lately I’ve felt pressured to handle my stuff the way society tells me to.
In the last month, I made a huge career change, started a Doctor of Ministry program, and because of some serious doo-doo, I have to move out of my current housing by October 1. Now, mind you, I currently live in the most expensive city in the nation, where I can rent a 300 square foot studio apartment for the average whopping bargain of $3200. What a steal, eh?
Here’s the lesson – In all tears, fear, frustration, anger, uncertainty, and stress, that literally had me at my doctor’s office a couple of times, I found housing, in the city, at a remarkable rental price, because my soon-to-be new landlord, simply believes in looking at and seeing people, not money. I had two interviews this week and I believe I will get at least one of those jobs. My daughter, who is also affected by the move-out date of October 1, has also found housing here in the city. I was considering delaying beginning my degree program because it felt like too much with everything else, but I didn’t. I love my class and am happy to be back in a learning environment again.
As daunting as it all felt, I followed that feeling that said that everything would work out. And it did. And it is. Yet, it’s not been easy, with the lump in my stomach and the emotional uncertainty of it all.
Let’s put it out there – who chooses vocation, over a money-making career? A lot of us. This is calling. This is faith at work. Yet in all of that, it feels so overwhelming, but, so right.
I remember my calling like it was yesterday, thinking, Nah. That MUST have hit the wrong pew. Not for me. Ignore. Yet, here I am, 18 years later, on my way to getting a doctorate. I made it. And there’s so much more to come.
I didn’t get here alone. There are so many people along my journey, that if not for them, I wouldn’t be here. Pastors, professors, mentors, rabbis, friends, family, imams, my daughter – all believing in me, at times more so than myself, for all of these years. They’re rooting for me, praying for me – when I can’t, or won’t, or can’t see me the way others do.
I believe this is where faith is – where faith leads, hopes, guides and creates. This is where faith comes from. My calling and my vocation isn’t about me – it’s about the human connection in us all. There’s a need for all of us. A need for those that design bridges and buildings who get paid a whole lot, and the need for those who serve in the ministry, and get paid jack-diddly. With all my degrees, I will never make as much as the start-up techie who’s 25 years old, and I am okay with that. More importantly, I don’t want that.
It’s corny, but true – things happen for a reason. We can’t see it all the time, or it takes a very long time to reveal itself, but, it’s true. I also believe that the faith people carry for us, is much like the faith God has in us. Or, maybe, the faith people have in us, is God’s faith, manifested in those around us so we can feel the tangible affects of that faith. I’m not sure.
The one thing I am most certain about, is that I am on the right path. So, I guess I do have faith in myself too. It’s difficult though, when there are some of those who tell you you’re not, or, you’re making bad choices, or, they can’t see or understand what it’s like to be called into ministry. I think this is a challenge we all face – those of us who choose this path. This, I believe, is a testament to our faith, our calling, and our work.
How I respond to all of challenges is up to me, yet as I wrote above, I think when we are challenged, we’re expected to respond as society tells us and expects us to: “Don’t be too emotional. Calm down. Don’t get so upset.” Sometimes I find this so offensive, mostly because I feel that as women, it’s not OK to be “emotional,” because you know, then we’re questioned as being manipulative or weak. How ridiculous. If men can get “angry” when they’re upset, then women can get “emotional.”
Truth is, there is no perfect way to respond to challenges. They present themselves, we react, we have emotions, we are human. In this test of faith we are called to find a deeper understanding of ourselves, our lives, our place in the world, and our situation. More, how does this coincide with all that’s around us? Every day. With everyone we come into contact with. This is what calling is to me. This is what my faith means to me. My faith and my work is not just about religion, conflict, and interfaith. My work is every day and everyone. My vocation is every day and everyone. My calling is every day and everyone.
A test of faith – did I pass? Yes. This time I did. I know, however, that my faith will continue to be tested in ways I can and cannot see. I may not always pass these tests with flying colors, but, just as I did this time, and last time, and all the times before, I will learn, I will grow and I will be stronger than before.
Because that is what faith is. Believing, even when it seems impossible. Holding yourself to your truth, even when everyone around you isn’t. And, letting God lead you, through others around you.
No one said life would be easy. But, that’s OK. That’s what faith is for.
Karen Leslie Hernandez is a theologian and interfaith activist. With a focus in Christian-Muslim Understanding, as well as religious fundamentalism and extremism, Karen is the only theologian who is a Latina and a United Methodist, doing this type of theological work in the US. She has published with several media outlets including the Women’s United Nations Report Network, The Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue/Studies, The Interfaith Observer, and she is the only Christian to publish an ongoing Op-Ed Column with OnIslam out of Cairo, Egypt. She loves to teach and last year designed and taught an Interfaith Dialogue workshop with Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago. Karen currently lives in San Francisco, is consulting with the United Religions Initiative, is an Ambassador with Parliament of the World’s Religions, and she also does Domestic Violence Faith Advocacy work across the US.