My life in pastoral ministry had its share of ambiguities. At a couple of points I considered switching to a teaching ministry. Many times I felt that I was giving my best in the parish but that the results were underwhelming; many times I was disappointed in myself. It's not that I didn't love parish ministry. In the 37 years since my ordination, I have never served a congregation in which God didn't surround me with gifted and generous partners. I loved the congregations and the people I served.
In seminary I had dreamed of pews filled to overflowing as I preached with the conviction and the illumination afforded by my midnight-oil studies. As a pastor, I often longed to feel what Jesus must have felt when the crowds grew so enormous he had to hop in a boat to get some breathing room. Although years ago I'd begged God for a sure sign that I was called to this work, that sign had never materialized. As a result, I performed my ministry with a recurring doubt in my head: Am I truly intended and called for this work?
Then, during the last weeks before my retirement, I was granted a sign—the purest, most profound sign I've ever experienced.