What job did you do before you became a priest?
I was a stage manager before I was ordained. And I totally miss it.
Now, that’s not to say that I don’t love being a priest — it is a huge privilege to sit with people during times of love and loss, to nurture conversations about empathy and meaning and to have a couple of hundred people who are willing to listen to me wonder out loud about God for 15 minutes every Sunday. There’s not much about my life that I would change
But, much as I love what I do now, I still mourn for my old career. I suspect that I always will. That’s because there is nothing quite like the theater business. On and around the stage, I joined a community of marvelously eccentric people. Together, we created beauty inside a dark room. It was a divine enterprise.
I guess I’m telling you my story of joy and of endings, Wondering, because it illustrates one of the hardest and most important lessons of life: you can’t walk down every road there is. Sometimes — maybe even most of the time — the choices that we face are not as clear as picking between something good and something bad. Rather, a lot of our choices are between two or more good, but different things. We might have to choose, as I did, between two vocations that we love; we might have to choose between attending a couple of great colleges; we might have to choose between becoming a parent and leaving that calling for others. While it is enviable to have such great options, there is sadness in these choices as well: even as we invite one possibility into our lives, we walk away from another.
The road not taken hangs like a vapor trail in the blue distance of the sky. Or, depending on how much Stephen King you read, maybe the road not taken floats like a ghost ship on the waters of your imagination. Either way, that untrod road is out of reach. We can wonder about it. (And wonder we do — notice the popularity of stories about alternative universes.) But we can no longer walk on it. That time is gone.
I don’t know much, Wondering, but I do know this: you will feel homesick for the past even as you do something good and joyful right now. You will mourn for what might have been despite the generative witness of what is. This is part of the beautiful melancholy of life.
It’s okay shed the occasional tear for the road not chosen. But don’t weep so much that you forget to drink in the wonders of the road that you are walking upon right now.
Do you have a question about ethical decision making, living a faithful life or theology? Leave a comment below or send your question for Martin Elfert to firstname.lastname@example.org.