Currently, I am employed as a chaplain in a retirement community here in Fort Dodge, IA. When I applied to this job in July 2015 I thought it was my dream job; and when I started it in September 2015, that turned out to be true. It is an extreme privilege to serve in ministry where I do. I get to use my greatest gifts for ministry on a daily basis, I am loved and appreciated by residents and staff, I feel purposeful and like I make a difference. It truly is a dream job.
And yet. Everything I have experienced here has led me to start thinking about my dream life. And I've come to realize that I'm not sure my dream job and my dream life are compatible.
Here's the thing. In this ministry, I get to spend a lot of time getting to know older adults and learning their life stories. I get to hear about the good and the bad, the ups and the downs, the joys and the regrets. Some people I talk to have truly lived their best life. They raised a family in their own home and enjoyed doing so. Or maybe they spent their life traveling the world and are just now settling down. Whatever they did, they enjoyed life to the fullest. Others regret not living their best life. They worked too much and ignored their family, or they worked too much and never got to travel like they wanted to, or they worked too much and by the time they had time to follow their dreams they were too sick to do so.
In deathbed conversations, a lot of regrets are shared, and not one time have I ever heard anyone say, "I wish I had worked more." Hearing the life stories of others has prompted me to do a lot of reflection on my own life. What will I share on my deathbed?
As amazing as ministry can be, particularly this ministry, it has a habit of consuming your life. At some point, I began to wonder if I was spending more time witnessing the lives of others than living my own. It is a privilege as a pastor to be with people in some of the best moments of their lives - weddings, the birth of babies, celebrating clean bills of health. It is also a privilege to be with people in some of the worst moments of their lives - funerals, tragic losses, receiving bad diagnoses.
In my short seven years in ministry I have been privy to more of these events in others lives than I can count. But I have also missed more of these events in my own life than I can count. My close friend and roommate of three years in seminary got married and I couldn't go. My family friend so close she's practically my niece got confirmed and I couldn't be there. My husband's grandfather died and I missed the funeral to officiate a funeral for someone else.
Ministry requires sacrifice, which I totally get. I'm just not sure I'm willing to make those sacrifices for the next 30+ years.
My dream life involves being present for the events in my own life, the big and the small. My dream life involves travel and freedom, not being tethered to one place 24/7, 49 weeks a year. In witnessing the lives and the end of life for so many of my beloved residents, I have been inspired to go out and live my own, before it's too late.