That word and its accompanying vocabulary of degrees, certificates, credentials, titles, and roles is used as an adjective to articulate vocation and expertise. And in our world, it comes fully furnished with expectations. Professionals are, by definition, assumed to be more extensively trained and (at least theoretically) more highly skilled – to know more, to be able to do more and do it better than the average Jane or Joe.
I lived that way for most of my life. I measured my worth by how well I fulfilled others’ expectations of who and what I should do and be, by the roles and jobs I held, the accomplishments, the letters after my name. Doing your best was important where I came from, and the degrees, titles, and certificates, were validation of all that effort.
I didn’t experience it as grudging or onerous. I loved my work as a pastor and teacher; relished my roles of wife and mom. I would have been perfectly happy doing them for the rest of my life. Especially the wife part.
I had no idea the extent to which those roles defined me until Bill’s death, when in a matter of months almost all of them disappeared.
No longer anyone’s pastor, teacher, or spouse, I went from being at home in all the spaces in my life to feeling as though I didn’t truly fit or belong anywhere. There was a gaping hole where my life used to be.
Who was I now? What was left – what was real, what was true – about me? Anything?
Haunting, daunting questions, those.
One piece at a time, one step at a time, (often one step forward, three steps back), I’ve begun living into who I am now. And in the process, I’ve become acquainted with a different definition of that word professional.
The truth is, at a certain level, no matter how many degrees we have (or don’t), whether there are letters after our name (or not), whether we have a whole string of titles or jobs, (or none), if we are living, we are all professionals. We each go about it in our own way, according to our own temperament, personality, and circumstances, but we are each tasked with the same job description: to discern who we were created to be, and live into that as best we can.
It’s messy business, this living. We’re all works in progress, and it takes a lot of work. Sometimes (often!), I get frustrated. What I consider “progress” doesn’t happen as quickly as I think it should and the path forward isn’t always as clear as I want it to be. Some days I’m not sure I’ll ever figure it out. Then I remember that becoming the me I was created to be is my true life’s work, that it will take my entire lifetime to do that, and I’m not walking that path alone.
I’m not pastoring or teaching anymore, but I’m still a professional. This is what I know is true about me and what I’m professing today:
Regardless of how much of a misfit I perceive myself to be, the Holy One says, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine… You are precious and honored… and I love you.” Isaiah 43:1, 4
I am, just as I am – and so are you – “worth more than many sparrows”, (Matthew 10:31). My value is not measured by the letters after my name, the number of likes on my Facebook and Instagram feeds, how many things I checked off my to-do list today, or the last dinner I cooked.
I am – we all are – “Fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14), regardless of our appearance or our opinion of it. The common clay jars of our human existence contain treasure – the light and love of the Sacred (See II Cor. 4:6-7), which we are all called, in our own way, to share.
What is true about you, dear reader? What are you professing today?