By Jared Jaggers
My recent foray back into theological education came at a pretty extensive price.
I spent a couple years working in an industry that felt like it was sucking the marrow from my bones and the joy from my soul. If sitting in a cubicle without even an occasional glimpse of the sky doesn’t sap your joy, having to make phone calls to give people bad news and being busy enough to feel glued to a rolling desk chair certainly will. It didn’t take long to desire something more than working for the weekend and weeping when Monday morning came around. I quit the job and now attend Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, Texas.
The decision to go to seminary filled my wife and me with enthusiasm. I was glad to be rid of a job that I didn’t enjoy and I felt that this new path held exciting opportunities. When I first decided to pursue theological education, my father gave me one piece of advice: “If you can do anything other than go into ministry; do that! But if God won’t give you peace doing anything else, then devote your life to ministry.” Those two years in a cubicle were a difficult time that showed me that I couldn’t find peace outside of doing the work of the church and the years were worth the clarity that they provided. After speaking with mentors and friends, I determined that pursuing ministry would fulfill my passions and skill set much better than career paths I had dabbled in previously.
Despite that initial enthusiasm though, change is always a difficult situation to navigate; particularly when it’s a pervasive change that shifts daily life in a significant way. My wife and I went from two incomes to one, we went from “leaving work at work” to textbooks everywhere at all times, and I went from a job with a lot of oversight and constant busy-work to graduate school that requires a lot of self-motivation and days alone. These shifts in our daily life were not easy to adjust to as we had less time in the evenings to spend together, finances grew tighter and I was personally challenged in many ways.
Enter the dark semester of the soul. Saint John of the Cross wrote about the dark night of the soul in the 16th century referring to a time of anxiety and spiritual crisis that occurs in one’s journey toward mystical union with God. For some of us, who are perhaps a bit slower to respond to God’s beckoning, this dark night winds up turning into weeks and months. That first semester in seminary wound up being a dark semester.
In my feeling uncertain about abandoning the steady job I had and readjusting to academic life, I grew depressed and struggled to cope. It seemed that the three years of an M.Div. were going to be too much to bear.However, God proved faithful and present even in those dark nights.
I’m reminded of my pastor’s words at family dedications in which he wishes a new baby “a good life, but not an easy life.” Looking at that initial semester in hindsight, I can see that the dark nights have proved to be a time of growth more than destruction. The challenges pushed me to new experiences of God, personal renewal, and a stronger relationship with my wife and friends as I opened up to them more.
For those of us living out or considering a calling to ministry in some way, the dark nights will come. However, it seems to me that God has an uncanny way of bringing growth out of the darkness and shining a brighter light through us after we have intimately experienced the gloomy side of life. If you’re in ministry of any sort, be encouraged that the dark night that is coming or is already upon you will bear spiritual fruit in your life.
When we are urged to examine ourselves and resolve some of the issues we struggle with, our personal and professional lives will flourish. When we are urged to confess and share parts of ourselves with family and friends, our relationships can be solidified and made more intimate. When we are urged to examine our beliefs and consider how God is at work in difficult times, our spiritual lives and ministries will grow deeper and more effective.
Jared Jaggers is a student at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, Texas, and is a 2016-17 CBF Vestal Scholar.