After high school, excited to follow God's call into full-time ministry, I enrolled in a Christian university and became as involved in local ministry as soon as possible. I felt good about my life, thinking I was living the way I was supposed to. I genuinely wanted to go into ministry, but what I didn't realize then was that I thought I had to do vocational ministry for God to love me. I didn't think I could have a relationship with God if I wasn't "answering his call.” I grew up living according to a legalistic faith- follow the rules, and God will favor you. Whether that meant completing the checklist of a daily Christian life or making the right long-term decisions, I was focused on earning God's love through action.
My sophomore year of college brought a rude awakening. Since I held myself to such a high standard, I set high standards for others as well. As I saw peers at school "break the rules" and disappoint me, I began to question God and what it means to live life for him. I also grew unhappy with my own life. The Christian formula I followed was supposed to bring me fulfillment, but it wasn't working. I became disillusioned with school, Christianity, and God. Realizing I knew very little about God's character, I began to identify myself as agnostic. In falling out of faith, I stepped away from all my ministry positions. I felt unqualified and inauthentic. I stayed out of any kind of ministry for two years.
During this time, I transferred to the University of Tennessee, began a degree in Political Science, and completely lost sight of "what I'm supposed to do" with my life, but God still found me. He continues to find me in the dark uncertainty I see in my future. I've learned I don't know what to expect, and I don't know how to make myself happy as well as God does. I tend to make plans no more than a couple months in advance, and I usually expect those plans to change. I live somewhere between resentment that my plans haven't worked out in the past and excitement that my future is wide open for God to orchestrate as he desires. I still struggle with talking to God about my ideas for the future, even the near future, and believing he hears me out. I tend to doubt myself a lot, thinking "he's going to have his way whether I like it or not." I'm trying to understand God's gentleness, patience, and love. In all these thoughts and feelings, I've learned how to live a day-by-day faith, always looking to learn something new about God and knowing I have the freedom to question him when I feel lost.
God has faithfully answered my request for gentle guidance. Since I transferred to UT, two of my favorite things he's given me are UT's Presbyterian campus ministry and YOKE. He spent a year healing and preparing my heart through the campus ministry. Last fall, by introducing me to YOKE, he showed me I am qualified to serve him, despite my past disbelief and unfaithfulness, despite my doubt towards myself and him.
A very close friend invited me to visit YOKE club at 7:00 PM at Cedar Bluff Middle School. I loved the joyful silliness I found in a group of sixth, seventh, and eighth graders, but I felt I couldn't become a leader unless I was committed to those kids week after week. I reluctantly decided to apply and, even after becoming a YOKE Folk at Cedar Bluff, I felt undeniably new to the ministry gig. However, over the past school year, I've found more freedom than limitations, more joy than fear, in a group of middle schoolers and adults who act like middle schoolers.
I'm now a senior a UT. Since freshman year, God has stripped away the self-righteousness with which I strode into ministry, shown me I don't have to do anything, nothing, to earn his love, and reintroduced me to serving in his kingdom with grace and humility. #YOKEis taking a step of faithful uncertainty to serve God again and finding again my place and purpose in his kingdom.
Cedar Bluff Middle