God’s Call

God calls us each where we are. I have been a seeker, struggling with the call of God since I was in my early twenties. Over the last two decades, I have carried a heavy burden, believing that I was not responding to God’s call, that I was disobeying God’s will. Yet, in spiritual direction when I was thirty, I was advised that my call at that time was to take care of my health, my mental health, and that my deep desire for a husband and children was also a calling. I have taken significant progress in obtaining the proper care for my mental illness, yet I feel more vulnerable now than ever before.

Jeremiah (20:9) shared his experience that genuine call took more energy to stifle than to release. I have tried to stifle the call, told myself that I was unworthy, too broken. Doing so has caused me great pain and anguish. Before applying to and being accepted by Fuller Theological Seminary, I told my husband that I would be sinning if I did not attend seminary. He responded that that was ridiculous. I countered that if God tells me to go to seminary, and I don’t, then I would be disobeying God, not following his will, not saying “Yes!” to God. Before I responded “Yes!” to God, I feared doing so and attempted, like Jeremiah, to squelch God’s call:

If I say, “I will not mention him,
or speak any more in his name,”
then within me there is something like a burning fire
shut up in my bones;
I am weary with holding it in,
and I cannot.

Jer 20:9 (NRSV)

For me discerning God’s call meant first of all trying to make sense of seemingly mystical experiences I had when I was twenty-one. Either God was calling me to the ordained ministry or I was hallucinating and therefore mentally ill. Since I had experienced severe depression three years prior to my first euphoric out-of-body experience, I had reason to doubt the reality of what I was experiencing. When I was an eighteen-year old freshman at UCLA, I became severely depressed, suffering hell on earth through no fault of my own. At that time, I irrationally believed that my family, and in fact the entire world, would be better off without me. Mind you that at the time I was very active on campus, volunteering at the UCLA Medical Center and training to be a peer health counselor. God called me through these activities to serve and minister to others. Still, I did not recognize my own value in God’s plan.

Back then, I considered myself an agnostic. I questioned the existence of God. I could not deny that He existed, for that would be arrogant; but I could not claim that He did exist, for I thought that also arrogant. I did not understand faith and did not discern the loving presence of Jesus in my life. Nor did I allow myself to experience life as a gift from a loving and forgiving God. During this time, my maternal grandfather with whom I had much in common, told my mother that what I needed was God in life. My parents had raised us to be skeptical. We did not go to church and did not experience Christian community.

When this same grandfather died, I was asked to give his eulogy and was honored to do so. In his eulogy I highlighted my grandfather’s gifts, many of which we shared. My grandfather was a colorful, passionate, and compassionate man, a natural orator and actor. Returning from his memorial mass, I was driving on the San Francisco Bay Bridge and started to have an out-of-body experience, which felt like all the negative energy in my body and soul was being pushed out by a positive energy. Very powerful. Shook me body and soul. Subsequently, for a period of time, I went in and out of trance-like states at will, using a candle and self hypnosis. Sometimes going to places of light – grounding ecstatic experiences where in loss of self, my real self was revealed; other times to dark, seductive, deceptive places (come here, I am the way) – where the loss of self was to oblivion, madness, evil darkness. I stopped going into these altered states because I sensed that what I was doing was dangerous. I did not ask for the first experience, that happened to me and not by my hand. By what right was I playing with something I did not understand.  I knew that I needed a religious grounding, one that was safe, not at risk of abuse, not a cult. Would others would see my experiences as mental illness? At that time, I did not believe that they were, but in the back of mind I knew it was a possibility, especially given the fact that I had struggled with mental illness – severe depression.

I turned to the Roman Catholic Church, for that was the church of my extended family, my heritage. While working toward confirmation, I could not reconcile this nagging feeling that God was calling me to the ordained ministry with the fact that the Roman Catholic Church does not ordain women.

At my last job as a psychotherapist working with adolescents who had severe emotional disturbances, I had mentioned to a Christian co-worker that I had this troubling sense that I was supposed to be doing something else. He immediately and without question, stated, “Oh, that’s because you have a call.” I was blown away because over the course of years I had been debating the meaning of this inner feeling, and here he hears only the smallest hint of it and he has no doubt – his faith was far stronger than mine. Due to depression, I ended up leaving this position, and eventually my profession as a psychotherapist.

In the midst of this breakdown, I confirmed my faith in the Episcopal church, similar to the Roman Catholic Church in liturgy, ritual and theology. I had a series of mystical experiences and unexplained coincidences where God called me to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Benicia, California. The congregation which confirmed me was spirit filled and lovingly helped me during a time of great need. During the manic phase of my breakdown, speeding through my mind were thoughts regarding the Christian mystics, chaos theory and binary language (which I didn’t know how to translate, of course). The content was of a highly religious nature. Luckily the mania did not steer me toward any harmful behavior, no spending spree, no promiscuity. Around this time, I sought spiritual direction and mental health treatment. My church community was unconditionally supportive and concerned for my well-being.

Once I had my breakdown at thirty, I did not feel that I was able to continue working as a psychotherapist. I was too fragile. Since then, I have felt guilty that I have not ministered to the world as I did when I was in my teens and twenties. I had volunteered in hospitals, lobbied for social justice and the environment, helped battered women and their children, counseled pregnant and parenting teens, and treated children and adolescents with severe mental illness.

My spiritual director at the time told me that marriage and parenthood are calls, and that God calls me to take care of myself, my mental health. These calls had to be addressed before any call to the seminary.

My focus since then has been on marriage and starting a family. God calls me to lovingly parent my wonderful yet sometimes challenging young energetic son. God calls me to love and support my husband. Life is not always easy, but that is not to say it is without value and meaning. We have love, faith, family and friends, community, and God loves us. I remind myself to not worry (Matthew 6:25-34):

Do Not Worry

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

34 “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Matt 6:25-34 (NRSV)

Not surprisingly, I have found myself overwhelmed by life. Still I continue to believe that God is calling me to pick myself up and walk his path. I have faith that this is the right thing to do. Once my son was in kindergarten and I was no longer working outside the home, I had the opportunity to begin my seminary studies.

Given my struggles with mental illness, my experience as a psychotherapist, and my sense of God’s call to the ordained ministry, I believe that God may be calling me to a mental health ministry. In the class Empowering the People of God, I wrote a mental health ministry training manual. When researching for this paper, I found many resources and ministries that serve those with mental illness and their families within the faith community. I have found that many of those with mental illness see their faith in God as fundamental to their healing. As Christians, we must recognize this need and lovingly minister to those with mental illness and their families.

God calls us in our brokenness to become whole in him, to reconcile ourselves to him, and to receive his healing love. When I allow God to use me to do his work – I feel great joy. Uplifting another soul uplifts my own.

– First written Fall 2005 while attending Fuller Theological Seminary

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26 thoughts on “God’s Call

  1. Elizabeth Austin June 25, 2017 / 1:29 pm

    I am so grateful to have stumbled across your blog as I was doing some research on mental health and faith. At 24, I was hospitalized for psychosis which eventually led to diagnosis of bipolar, type 1, social anxiety disorder, ADHD, and trauma from the psychosis (specifically from the terrifying hallucinations I experienced). I’m now 28, married to a supportive husband and we have a 16 month old. I felt that God was calling me to stay at home with her and focus on my mental health. I’m starting faith-based counseling at our wonderful church this week and I’m excited to begin. My medication is working great and I have a great psychiatrist but I know I need some healing and hopefully one day I can comfort others that are experiencing the dark parts of bipolar. My biggest struggle is that I had once had those big manic dreams of who I would become and worked hard to graduate from a top university in hopes of going into a Phd program for Industrial-Organizational Psych – but I’ve long realized that my health and family come first.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kitt O'Malley June 27, 2017 / 6:52 pm

      Difficult to accept that God may have plans for us that differ from our ambitions. I still struggle with it, honestly. God bless you. Remember that you are still young. God may call you to return to your studies later in your life.

      Like

  2. Lizzy August 2, 2015 / 2:28 pm

    Hello Kitt. Your post about finding and knowing God’s call is one that in some ways parallel my own life. I had been having an “atomic war” against my eating disorder for over 30 years prior to finding my recovery in Jesus. I fully agree that when we are ill God is often times calling us to take care of ourselves. Husband/wife/kids/family are all callings of ministry as well. So many people think that just because we may feel God calling us to do something, we must do it. However, it does not necessarily mean that that is what we are being led to do. Wisdom and discernment can be a tough thing to figure out!

    As I struggle with my epilepsy and increasing cognitive impairment, I so often find myself questioning the calling(s) God has placed upon me — past and present. I miss doing my ministry work. I miss teaching Bible study. I miss guiding and encouraging other leaders. So, what am I saying here? The callings we hear from God, for many people, change with the seasons of our lives. We need only to act in faith. Answering yes or no to these callings is between God and you. He will always love you no matter your answer. God bless!

    I look forward to reading more of your articles!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kitt O'Malley August 2, 2015 / 4:15 pm

      You have great wisdom. Without a doubt there are seasons to our lives and discernment can be challenging. Thank you for visiting my site and sharing your wisdom. I pray for you as you continue your ministry, which may for now be in part your prayerful blog, and as you fight epilepsy. God bless you.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Diana B. April 9, 2015 / 2:10 am

    I appreciate the courage it must have taken not just to take this adversity head-on, but to share so openly about your experience. Too many people are crippled by emotional illness with few resources. I suspect the best resources are the “wounded healers” who are hiding ourselves away in work and projects that are related to nearly anything other than best things we could do to help others.

    Thank you for your courage, commitment and service.
    —Diana

    Liked by 1 person

  4. ShahShankedRedemption February 15, 2015 / 3:05 pm

    Kit, I noticed you wrote this paper in 05. Ten years later, do still feel the same way—struggling with what your calling is?
    How do you like for people to reply to your posts, i.e., “Great post! keep writing.”, or actually getting a discussion going? Personally, I prefer a discussion. I’m asking this because I really don’t want to start a discussion if you prefer a short reply on your posts. My short reply would be, “Not too many people, especially within the Christian community, dare to be as transparent and open as you are. Most often, one has to pay the price for being so, but I’m glad you’re surrounded by such a wonderful community that has accepted you for who you are. A for my long reply, I’ll wait to hear from you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kitt O'Malley February 15, 2015 / 5:40 pm

      Honestly, my community is not so much the Christian community as it is the mental health community. Though, when I did last go to church regularly, I was open about my bipolar disorder, as was another parishioner in a leadership position. I am doing my calling right now. I am coming into my purpose. Of course, my life has had different focuses at different times, but now, online mental health advocacy and volunteering for NAMI are my ministries.

      Like

  5. cabrogal February 15, 2015 / 8:52 am

    I use the word ‘God’ a fair bit, but like you I use it more as a place marker for something indefinable than as a noun attached to something I think exists in any conceivable form.

    However I have had direct unmediated experience of a Goddess. I’m pretty sure I even know which one. But even so I don’t know what that means or if it means anything at all beyond the experiences themselves. Whether it was a product of my madness, my exposure to Hindu beliefs and rituals or something completely independent of me I just don’t know. The metaphysics of Kashmir Shaivism seem to make sense of the experiences but I’m not sure that sense is what I should be trying to make of them. They seem more wondrous than anything that could be captured or explained with mere sense. The only sincere responses they evoke in me are awe and devotion.

    Despite and because of my experiences I still consider myself a skeptical agnostic. I definitely don’t know what’s really going on in the universe and to say I believe in God (or the Goddess) would be to lay claim to faith or knowledge I simply don’t have.

    Subsequently, for a period of time, I went in and out of trance-like states at will, using a candle and self hypnosis. Sometimes going to places of light – grounding ecstatic experiences where in loss of self, my real self was revealed; other times to dark, seductive, deceptive places (come here, I am the way) – where the loss of self was to oblivion, madness, evil darkness.

    The only negative mystical/psychotic experiences I’ve had have come when the self hasn’t been lost. The self that divides and judges things as good or evil, dark or light. The self that is existentially terrified of the fact of it’s own non-existence. The self that fails to realise it is one with everything and therefore perfect and beyond all possible threat.

    Yeah, there’s dark stuff out there. And light stuff too. But in my experience every external perception of a pole of dualism has an internal complement and visa versa. I perceive darkness because I have cast it from myself while holding onto the light. By letting the boundary between myself and the darkness dissolve I am freeing the light I’ve been trying to keep to myself. The contradictions then resolve. There is no light, no darkness, just One. Bliss.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kitt O'Malley February 15, 2015 / 2:17 pm

      Thank you for your take on it. I just knew that as an unguided 21 year old with a history of severe suicidal depression and a penchant for hallucinogens, I had better not play around too much. I’ve heard that said about self, but the light led me back to a more grounded self, a self grounded in the context of a greater whole. The deceptive dark threatened the complete obliteration of me, of my sanity. I feared it and believed that I had good reason to fear it. My hairs stood on end. I didn’t want to go there for there was no return. I like the no light, no darkness, just one. But at that time in my life, there was a threat to my psychic safety. If I had been in trust worthy hands, perhaps I could have explored it safely, but the only place I felt safe at that time was going to the Roman Catholic church, for that was the faith of my ancestors.

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      • cabrogal February 16, 2015 / 10:11 pm

        I just knew that as an unguided 21 year old with a history of severe suicidal depression and a penchant for hallucinogens, I had better not play around too much.

        Yeah, there’s no doubt the dividing line between ego death and physical death can be pretty thin. Swami Vivekananda said The Mother comes to those who hug the form of Death and Rumi said “Who would accept Heaven if the price is death. But that’s what love is. Death.”

        There’s a movie about a dying Marine called Jacob’s Ladder. In it there’s a passage attributed to Meister Eckhart, though I don’t think Eckhart actually wrote anything such thing. Nonetheless it sure rings true to me. A dying Muslim man in Sri Lanka once told me something quite similar.

        It goes something like this:

        The only part of you that burns in hell is the part that won’t let go of life. The memories, attachments, all get burned away. But the demons aren’t punishing you. They’re freeing your soul. If you’re frightened of dying and holding on you see devils tearing your life away. But when you’ve made your peace you see the devils are really angels leading you to Heaven.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Kitt O'Malley February 17, 2015 / 5:07 pm

          My fear wasn’t of physical death, but of living with my mind lost and unable to funciton. I feared insanity.

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  6. Elouise December 7, 2014 / 12:57 pm

    Hi, Kitt!
    I’ve been wandering around a bit in your blog–enjoying your writing style and learning more about your life journey. Nothing dull or boring about it! I’m a Fuller grad myself–1976! Then Vanderbilt and on to my teaching/administrative work at a seminary. Until I retired! Now I can blog my heart out. It’s a wonderful thing for me, and is helping me write my life from all the angles and directions it has taken. I’m intrigued by the way your life has unfolded. God is indeed faithful–finding us in places we never thought to look for God! Or were looking for the wrong God. I don’t know how you found my blog, but I’m grateful you did. Thanks for the follow and this new connection for me.
    Elouise

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kitt O'Malley December 7, 2014 / 3:15 pm

      Thank you. The world is indeed small. I enjoyed Fuller very much. Since I was an undergraduate at UC Berkeley, my dream was to attend the Graduate Theological Union up there. I loved the place and felt drawn to it, but my life has taken a different road.

      Like

  7. mariskameldrum November 3, 2014 / 2:39 am

    Thanks so much for sharing your story Kit. I believe God has given you a very special ministry – of reaching out to and encouraging those struggling with mental illness. Unless you have experienced this yourself, it’s difficult to know how to minister to others.

    I am working with my local church – and my father’s church – in a couple of weeks on preparing a special training workshop and service around mental health. I would really love to read any materials you have prepared for churches on this issue. My email address is on the http://www.bipolarmums.com website.

    Mariska xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kitt O'Malley November 3, 2014 / 12:12 pm

      I could not find your email address on your site (though I did tweet and retweet a few posts), so I added a downloadable zip file to my web page listed in my last reply which includes my research from when wrote the paper in seminary some nine years ago. God bless you and best of luck!

      Like

  8. WiL August 1, 2014 / 5:21 pm

    I can relate to this as I had to quit working due to my breakdown. I feel like my calling is now to take care of my mental health, my children and support my husband, too. I find great meaning in blogging as well. I really enjoyed reading your story here. Thanks for sharing it.

    Like

    • Kitt O'Malley August 1, 2014 / 5:33 pm

      Thank you for sharing that you have had the same experience and have framed it in the same way. For us to take care of our families, we must take care of ourselves.

      Like

  9. writerwannabe763 July 4, 2014 / 8:24 pm

    I can hear in your words the desire to be in God’s will and I feel that things will just flow to how He wants that to be… Perhaps for now it is to be a mother and wife and raise your child.. also this blog . A lot of people search through the ‘topics and tags’ and read… They may not always comment but they read. I sometimes have few comments and ‘likes’ but if I look at my stats I will see that several more have visited… So be encouraged. I have a history of mental illness that took the form of depression. and while I managed to be married and raise 3 children and work for the most part outside the home…. I suffered most of my adult life off and on and to various degrees. .. until about 6 years or so.. ago. That was a big motivation for me to do a blog as well, and I have had many interactions with those suffering from depression and other forms of mental illness. I recently have taken a short break…not totally… because of sheer fatigue due to various things… but I do believe it is a ministry in many ways.. So take heart, that God will use you … Diane

    Like

    • Kitt O'Malley July 4, 2014 / 11:11 pm

      Thank you so much, Diane. I am encouraged by your kind words of support and belief that God will use me. I pray for you. I pray that your fatigue is lessened, that God lifts it from your shoulders and lightens your load. I look forward to reading your blog. God bless you. Peace be with you.

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  10. stockdalewolfe June 19, 2014 / 12:56 pm

    Good to read this passage and your story. Good to be reminded not to worry. Being Bipolar 1, Asperger’s and having Generalized Anxiety Disorder, I am a terrible worrier so I need to reread this passage. Good luck in your ministry.

    Like

    • Kitt O'Malley June 19, 2014 / 1:35 pm

      Thank you for commenting on this page, for to respond I had to revisit it. I had originally written it in 2005 when I first attended Fuller Seminary. I never completed my seminary training, and I still do question what God exactly calls me to do. My hope is that I am ministering through this blog. Certainly the quote from theologian Henri Nouwen rings true: “God calls us in our brokenness to become whole in him, to reconcile ourselves to him, and to receive his healing love.” God bless you and thank you.

      Like

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