September 25, 2020

Wilderness Update, September 2013


Fork in the Road, by Robb Siverson

It is decision time.

The first Sunday in September was the last day of my summer internship in my home church. This concludes my year of practical and academic work for the ELCA and brings me to a point where I must write a candidacy essay and submit my application for final approval to receive a call and be ordained as a Lutheran pastor.

And now I find myself paralyzed.

I remember when making huge, life-changing decisions came more easily. Gail and I have always considered ourselves fairly adventurous and open to change.

Leave home and go to Vermont after college with no job prospects? Pack up the VW — see ya!

Decide to move to Chicago for seminary (with no place to live, no money, and no connections where we’re going)? Why not?

Relocate to Indianapolis, an entirely new place to us, with a young family? Sure.

Get on a plane and take mission trips halfway around the world to India, leaving our kids at home? Count me in.

Take a senior pastor position in a another town in a troubled church and uproot our growing family yet once more? OK.

Leave evangelicalism and everything we’ve known about faith and church and ministry in our adult lives to seek a home in a mainline Lutheran church? Do it.

These are a few of the big transitions we’ve made, and I’m sure many of you have made even more radical, life-altering changes in your lives. We, perhaps like you, were enthusiastic, idealistic, naive, trusting and believing that God was guiding us. And, looking back, I see blessings, provisions, and encouragements along the way. We have wonderful relationships all around the world. We have great memories of special experiences of God helping us and using us to minister to others.

However, I’m older now, and, it is hoped, wise enough to recognize that it has been (and always is) a more complicated story than that.

In my enthusiasm to follow God’s leading, I have often presumed upon the help of others, little realizing how much I was putting on their shoulders.

Though I tried to take my children’s perspectives into account when preparing for big changes, I wasn’t nearly as sensitive and available to them in the midst of those transitions as I should have been. Our family bears some scars.

Friendships changed in ways that others were not ready for. With every “hello” to a new experience in life there is a “goodbye.” Taking a new road means getting off the old road. Embracing a new friend in a new place often means one has had to leave another friend behind feeling bereft.

I guess my greatest fear is that it is so hard to “count the cost” ahead of any major decision. You think you are covering all the bases but you never do.

Watchman Nee once wrote that when you see someone putting his hand to the plow, you will usually see that his other hand is wiping away tears. I didn’t always shed tears before — so eager was I to move forward. Now, the tears come just considering the possibilities.

In the past, in my youthful enthusiasm and naivete, I always looked forward and celebrated new things to come.

Now, having taken many roads, I celebrate the value of what we have now, and find myself more loathe to leave it behind.

Is this merely the hesitation of age? An admission of less energy and vitality? A deeper unwillingness for adventure?

Or is it a proper, hard won caution, knowing that decisions have consequences, many of which I cannot see, and which will affect others in ways I might find troubling?

Of course, I could always follow Yogi Berra’s advice: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

Well, that’s where I am at the moment.

* * *

Today’s Artwork is by Rob Siverson at Fine Art America


  1. This is a keeper, CM. Thanks for sharing where you’re at regarding the fork in the road. Your questions near the end of this article are so valid and you’ve articulated something I’m sure many of us have felt, especially when faced with a big decision and not clearly knowing God’s will. I’ll pray that God blesses you with some divine wisdom as you prepare to make your decision. And remember…whatever fork you take, He loves you!

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > where you’re at regarding the fork in the road

      A fork? With six choices it is more like one of those twisty freeway & highway intersections that pile up layer upon layer of overpasses. I never like those, so disorienting.

  2. Don’t forget that some friends will still be around no matter what decision you make, even if they don’t see you as much as they’d like.

  3. Praying for you as you make your decisions

  4. Chaplain Mike, just wanted to say that I recognise many of the things you’re feeling because I’ve felt them at various points in my own journey. May God grant you peace in the midst of the decisions you need to make.

  5. David Cornwell says

    Over the years I’ve come to the place where I regard God’s will concerning many of the decisions we make to be “fuzzy.” I do not mean that in a disrespectful sense at all, To me it just means that the choices are not black and white, and therefore we must use the good facilities that He has given us to make a determination. Then, after prayer, consultation, meditation, and everything else that goes into going one way or another at that fork in the road, God is still with us, will guide us, and bless us in our efforts.

    Sometimes I’ve prayed for an “open door” to help guide me, at times when a critical decision lay ahead. And so often it happens just that way. The problem always appears when after a few years we look back, sometimes with regret, at not having taken the other fork. And here we can commit sin, I think, because we are doubting the processes that led us to this place.

    On PBS last eve I watched the program “Last Tango in Halifax” where two older people, through a series of circumstances, find each other again after their respective spouses are dead. They had known each other as teens, and had somewhat secret affection for each other. However circumstances joined them with other partners with less than happy results. Now, they meet again and talk about what their lives “could” have been like had they taken the other fork, and joined with each other. This is always a tempting scenario, and when I have those thoughts, I try to reign them in quickly, because they only cause trouble.

    Chaplain Mike, what I know for sure so far is that God has been with you, and has led you to this good place at the forks of the road. Now He stands with you and will not abandon you. Go in peace.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > about what their lives “could” have been like had

      It is a quote from someone I cannot recall: “nostalgia is a disease of the mind”. Never were there truer words. Related to what JRR Tolkien called “the sin of the embalmer” [an intellectual sin he made much of, telling that in his letters it often seemed it was a sin he was predisposed to].

      Be here now.

    • Also we need to beware of the thinking that comes when the path we believed we were being led on does not, in the end, turn out to be *successful,* but rather filled with rocky places and sorrow. My own ministry has been filled with these disappointments. I was hoping to serve in healthy, growing churches; instead the last two churches where I have served (as an ordained person working in lay ministry) have actually gone through crises leading to their closing. I have agonized and questioned why God seems to have chosen me for this kind of duty, but interestingly I have never questioned whether I had somehow “missed the cues,” should have taken the other fork, and was being punished for not getting it right.

      All this to say we should not confused “success” and pleasant duty with obedience and following God’s will.

  6. What David said above in the last paragraph. Take as much time as you need; God is not usually in a hurry. Something might come up that you haven’t yet considered. God will help you, and he is always with you.


  7. Seems that we don’t have an issue with having faith in God and His promises so long as the pathways He leads us on are unlittered and clearly mapped out.

    In reality though, when He leads us oftentimes it in faith that we must follow. There are decisions we make that are rather clear. Do I drink the dark beer or that other kind? But there are also time when we must act not really knowing what is going to happen. There was a point that Peter had to swing his leg over the edge of the boat…

    God is with you.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      Peter always struck me as the impetuous over-eager youth; not big in the wisdom department. Peter probably leaped out of that boat.

  8. is possible that the seeds of your ‘essay’ are already within your post, Chaplain Mike

    there is an honesty and a sense of purpose in your described journey that may not be just seen as an ‘isolated’ personal experience, but instead may resonate with many who, trusting in Christ, have sought to answer a call that took them onto roads untraveled . . .

    ““Hope is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart;
    it transcends the world that is immediately experienced,
    and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons
    . . . It is not the conviction that something will turn out well,
    but the certainty that something makes sense,
    regardless of how it turns out.”
    (Vaclav Havel)

  9. As you’ve gotten older, you’ve grown in wisdom, and that’s what’s supposed to happen, though it frequently doesn’t.

    The Lord be with you.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > As you’ve gotten older, you’ve grown in wisdom, and that’s what’s supposed to happen


  10. Prayers out to you…

    And, for myself, I now overthink, due to expereince of what can go wrong for me personally and in the world in general. We have lost the “blessing” of the sheer ignorance of youth. So, I do the responisble things….list of pros and cons, talk it over with my better half and the rest of the family (and the tiny group of friends that COUNT as family), gather information on each option, and do a cost-benefit analysis.

    If it is STILL a dead heat, and even sometimes when it isn’t, I follow my heart (or subconscious, or inner God-Voice) and try NOT to look back.

  11. I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
    For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without
    For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
    But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.

    T.S. Eliot, East Coker, Four Quartets


    I’m older now but still running
    against the wind…….
    against the wind…….

    Bob Seger, Against the Wind

  12. Wherever you go I am certain that your faith, commitment, and character will bear fruit! Somewhere between yogi and a message from a burning bush the answer lies – my prayer is that you will find the way with with an abundance of grace.

  13. It’s like you’re poised between mainstream churchianity, with its promise of a stable clergy job, and a more Jesus-shaped spirituality.

    When you “count the cost,” make sure it doesn’t come out to thirty pieces of silver.

    • I’ll bet you compose greeting cards for Hallmark, don’t you? There’s just nothing quite like a word of encouragement!

    • Thanks Abby. I have a stable job now, so that really isn’t the issue. One good aspect of my situation is that I am in a good place and am free to either stay or go.

    • Abby–I think it’s precisely that he was seeking a Jesus-shaped spirituality that led CM out of the evangelical world, through the post-evangelical wilderness and to the threshold on which he’s now standing; you seem to believe the only way to live a Jesus-shaped spirituality is to remain in the post-evangelical wilderness. It’s not so.

  14. Chaplain Mike-

    Do the essay. No offense, but it doesn’t seem to be that difficult a decision.

  15. Chaplain Mike – Time, circumstance, and wisdom have brought you to the point where you are: God wants you to seek him in your conundrum, and you are surely doing that. Now he will bless which ever route you choose. That’s the freedom you have. Try each option on for size; wear it for a day or two, living the days as if that one option is the one you want.. Then try the other for a period and decide which either pinches least or fits best.



  16. Still Learning says

    Mike –

    I understand your thoughts here, even knowing I’m maybe a couple of decades younger than you (at least viewing your pic). We’ve been abroad internationally for some time now, and while we believe this move is actually something God is stirring & speaking, we still have simple practical things that draw us back home. The simple things like family support.

    When we moved internationally, we sold everything, even after only one & a half years of marriage, which meant saying bye to all of our wedding gifts and furniture in our home. This can sound materialistic, and we’re ok to have done this in the bigger picture of God. But we don’t want to approach things that way again. We are roots people, wanting to dig down deep. Family, a home, our children playing with their cousins, etc. While we are not naive to the changes of moving back home, we look forward to our family being a bit more settled. Still, we know God might surprise us in the future. But he knows our hearts & desires, and we believe he is the one that put these desires for roots & family. We took 9 months to make this decision in God. So I understand your hesitation and reflective pause. It’s a good thing. Blessings on your next step.

  17. I “accidently” clicked on this discussion this morning. It has been refreshing! Thank you all. “Religion”, I notice has become a dirty word in the world at large. It prompted me to remember what God’s definition of religion is….James 1:26- “Pure religion and undefiled before God and Father, is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unspotted from the world”. ASV

    May whatever “fork” we take lead us to pure and undefiled religion.

  18. Joseph (the original) says

    at this older stage of life approaching my 7th decade, I have been more aware of God’s encouragement to just make a decision. simply make a choice or decision or plan of action without having to over spiritualize the divine Plan A categorization imprimatur that we hope brings the peace we also want to go along with our decision…

    seems God is going to be with us no matter the decision we do make. and most decisions are not between good & evil, but simply choices of making a destination change or direction change along the journey we are on. some consequences are then perceived as gooder or badder than the ‘what if’ scenario of choosing differently.

    and sure, if there was a divine do-over button offered I would certainly push it, but then I might not have the same life-shaping lessons God has used to transform my character.

    don’t get me wrong, I have episodes in my past that I think were a total waste. and those times I had no sense of God helping me steer out of them. we’ve had our arguments over that consideration more times than I can count…

    but I do think in my case anyway, since I’m not really a spontaneous plan maker, that He wants me to weigh things as Chap Mike wisely recognizes now, but then make a decision. for me, the making the decision is itself a life lesson I suppose…

    anyway, my hope & prayer is that God can actually redeem my past; the good, the bad & the ugly. all of it. and I hope He helps me make sense of it someday, maybe not in this timeline, but the next. I know intellectually & theologically the past & any & every situation is not a limitation to God, but since we exist in this linear timeline with no ability to alter the past, I do hope we can have a good laugh together looking back from His perspective…


  19. I read this several years ago and it has been helpful.

    1. If God were merely another contingent being like myself, then to do His will would seem to be just as futile as doing my own. Our happiness consists in doing the will of God. But the essence of this happiness does not lie merely in an agreement of wills. It consists in a union with God. And the union of wills which makes us happy in God must ultimately be something deeper than an agreement.

    2. First of all, let us not all be too glib in our statements about the will of God. God’s will is a profound and holy mystery, and the fact that we live our everyday lives engulfed in this mystery should not lead us to underestimate its holiness. We dwell in the will of God as in a sanctuary. His will is the cloud of darkness that surrounds His immediate presence. It is the mys¬tery in which His divine life and our created life be¬come “one spirit,” since, as St. Paul says, “Those who are joined to the Lord are one spirit” (I Corinthians 6:17).

    There are religious men who have become so familiar with the concept of God’s will that their familiarity has bred an apparent contempt. It has made them forget that God’s will is more than a concept. It is a terrible and transcendent reality, a secret power which is given to us, from moment to moment, to be the life of our life and the soul of our own soul’s life. It is the living flame of God’s own Spirit, in Whom our own soul’s flame can play, if it wills, like a mysterious angel. God’s will is not an abstraction, not a machine, not an esoteric system. It is a living concrete reality in the lives of men, and our souls are created to burn as flames within His flame. The will of the Lord is not a static center drawing our souls blindly toward itself. It is a creative power, working everywhere, giving life and being and direction to all things, and above all forming and cre¬ating, in the midst of an old creation, a whole new world which is called the Kingdom of God. What we call the “will of God” is the movement of His love and wisdom, ordering and governing all free and necessary agents, moving movers and causing causes, driving drivers and ruling those who rule, so that even those who resist Him carry out His will without realizing that they are doing so. In all His acts God orders all things, whether good or evil, for the good of those who know Him and seek Him and who strive to bring their own freedom under obedience to His divine purpose. All that is done by the will of God in secret is done for His glory and for the good of those whom He has chosen to share in His glory.

    (excerpt from chapt. 4, Pure Intention, No Man Is An Island, Thomas Merton)

  20. Marcus Felde says

    I would expect that writing the essay would be the best way to reach the fateful (?) decision. Writing makes you exact, right?

  21. Is being ordained going to cause a rupture with your current vocation of being a chaplain to the dying? Does ELCA have a problem with the interfaith model of your chaplaincy program (I know the WELS Lutherans are somewhat neurotic about this and the LCMS a little less so). What is the ELCA way of sending forth priests (reverends?) Do you get to choose or are you assigned? What if you get a dying church? A lot of them aren’t doing well, especially in rural areas.

  22. Yes, I find myself experiencing similar changes as I age. I’m certianly not as quick to make those decisions, I want to weigh the cost but I also don’t want to do is so slowly that I miss out on an opportunity. I think that past experience has taught me to take on way less but to do what I do with more intention and excellence.