I believe language is everything. Words seep down into the crevices of the spine, and they grow. If they’re good, then the person will stand taller. They will radiate light. If those words come with judgment or hostility, a person might lose a few inches, stretching to find the light they once had. It’s a hard road when you’ve been knocked down a few inches, but I think eventually, the light finds you again.
When I left seminary, a few weeks ago, I had to meet with a professor to have a conversation about my decision to withdraw. I realized quickly it wasn’t a conversation but a pitch. It didn’t matter I was leaving because of personal reasons and mental health. She offered me in several different forms a reduced time in seminary for a different degree. “How about the M.A.C.M.? Two classes and CPE and you’ll be done? Have you thought about only taking a semester off?” When I explained to her the logistics of my time, CPE is 40 hours a week and I work nearly 40 hours a week, and that isn’t ideal, she let out an “Oh.” It was an oh I wish I caught on camera because as a pastoral worker, we are taught against every reaction she had in that 10 minute meeting. I digress. Before I left, she asked me what I would do since I wasn’t in seminary. Unfortunately, she did not word it like that. “So you’re just not going to finish? You’re just going to be a deputy clerk?” The just is where I am hung up on. Let me explain.
In undergrad, I had this amazingly wonderful professor, Dr. Martin, and he would make sure that in any of our responses–either verbal or written–we never used the word just. When we said it in class, he would interrupt us and say, “Don’t say just.” As annoying as I found his incessant interruptions, his words stuck with me. It wasn’t until I left undergrad, when I didn’t have Dr. Martin to call me out, that I understood why I shouldn’t say just. Just is a limitation imposed upon someone or something. When you say just, you are imposing your expectations upon them while limiting them to be something you find limiting for their potential. With just, they have no room to be anything else. I felt deduced to being only a deputy clerk. Her words were instantly frustrating. I responded back rather harshly and defensively. I started rattling off things I would be doing instead of being in seminary. If her question were worded differently, I wouldn’t have felt the need to defend myself against the limitations of just. I’ve had many people ask me what I was going to do post-seminary, and with some I was honest: “I am going to rest.”
Words matter and hers left a bitter taste in my mouth. Because this is such a fresh loss, when I think back on my time in seminary, I think back at the most recent things. My friend, who also left seminary earlier this year, said, “It’s like attending your own funeral.” And it really is. At the end, I could only see those who supported me, those who judged me, and those who only cared for me within an academic context. It was humbling and deeply saddening. So, today, I’m doing some processing of those feelings. I’m grateful for what the experience was. Despite the bitterness, I believe my time there was intentional both in my life and the lives of other people. I believe it mattered. I wish other people could see that too. Today, I am stretching to find the light I had and to believe in the great purposefulness of my journey.