By Nicole Unice
Yesterday I stepped into my closet to scan my bottom-half options. One, two, five pairs of khaki pants hung together, jostling one another for my attention. They seem to holler “Grownup! Professional! Wear me.” I leave them stuffed between three pairs of black pants and a blazer I wore once to the office, but took off before I saw any clients.
Seems like every time (or the one time) that I wore them this year, I felt like I was being something that I wasn’t. Something that didn’t quite fit.
I’m stepping out of those khakis—and everything they stand for—after seven years as a counseling “professional.” They are just pants, but they represent an image I thought I needed to project, one of maturity and wisdom.
How could I love on teenage girls if their parents thought I looked too young to be paid? How could I know what I was talking about if I couldn’t wear pumps with panache?
Silly, of course.
But somehow I believed it to be true. That my real self wasn’t good enough to “professionally” guide, love and instruct others.
Over time, the strict boundaries of the office—watching the minutes, writing treatment plans, looking for progress—morphed, as I did. I found myself praying for clients as I was often without words. Sometimes I took teenagers to the park or the coffee shop. Some of them started coming to my church, because I invited them, a clear no-no of professional relationships. My understanding of “profession” become cloudy. How do I love within the confines of this experience?
Bit by bit, what felt like the perfect fit became uncomfortable. The evening and weekend hours—perfect with little children at home—became burdensome as I traded nap strategies for spelling tests.
I tried to shake it off—surely this was my call. All work feels like work sometimes. It’s just burnout. But the feeling wouldn’t go away.
A few weeks ago I spent time with a spiritual director. We discussed my hang-ups with Jesus’ words, paraphrased in the Message: “Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.” (Matthew 11:29)
Ill-fitting. Like my khakis, something about life didn’t quite fit. She pointed out: “perhaps this role was right for a time, but God is calling you to something new.”
So, I step out into the unknown, unpaid land of ministry. Degree in hand, I tremble. Is it anticipation or anxiety? I don’t know, and it still doesn’t feel quite right. But I fold the khakis and slide them, stacked one on the other, to the back of the closet.
Yesterday, I left my khakis and bought something I’ve eyed for three years. A denim skirt, faded, with a frayed hem. It will go perfect with my cowboy boots in the spring and my flip-flops in the summer. And that fits just right, for now.
Learning to live and to lead means I am stuttering toward his rhythms of grace, letting go of what was and moving toward what is to come. And I am trying to trust him, that folding up my khaki pants and embracing my denim mini is just what He would have me to do.