This must be how it feels to start the protocol to set off a nuclear warhead.
My dry eyes idled on the screen as I scratched my hot armpits. I finger-combed my hair and massaged my scalp. I tapped the “Confirm” button, refusing to think further.
The next screen gifted me the fuzziness of unsatisfied completion: “Your withdrawal request has been submitted.” I just became a three-time seminary dropout.
It sounds interesting, doesn’t it? “Seminary dropout.” I can use it as the title for an album or a quirky name for a dog.
“Come here, you cute, little Seminary Dropout!” It’s a versatile label.
I started seminary in 2010 after moving from Georgia to North Carolina. I plunged into glorious lectures in Christian history, hermeneutics, and ministry mission and practice. Then I became pregnant with our second child, so I took a break.
“I will be back,” I told myself.
And I squeaked back into school in 2013 before I would need to reapply. As a sleepy, breastfeeding mom, I fought the clock between paper deadlines and the smacking of hungry lips. Skipping a semester here and there, I hit the pause button in 2014 with the arrival of our daughter. I will be back, I told myself.
Then our lives unraveled into weighty chapters with too many plot twists:
-My husband took a position on staff at a church in South Carolina.
-I homeschooled our kids.
-We traveled to the Pacific Northwest and prayed about if and where we fit.
-Our family took the leap and moved across the country to replant a dying church in Washington state.
-I got kind of serious with my writing and got published in a few things.
-COVID became a new word in our collective vocabulary.
-I was hired as a special education paraeducator at my kids’ school.
Then in the fall of 2020, I started seminary again. With only five classes left to graduate with my master’s degree, this was very attainable.
Well, it wasn’t. Even though I was a pro at writing papers, I panicked at my research paper requirements. Even though I read so many academic books, I wasn’t able to keep up with the 60 to 80 pages I needed to read each week.
Yes, I now had three kids. I was working. I needed to give myself some grace. But you know what? I wasn’t even sure why I needed to complete this degree.
As a woman in ministry, I always felt the need to prove I knew what I was talking about. Seminary would show that I was well equipped. Right?
As a writer who weaves words about Christian themes, this degree would give me more legitimacy. Right?
Well, wrong. Because reasoning always brought me to one word: obligation. When I told people I was thinking of dropping out, they reassured me that I could always go back.
Heck, no. None of this going back and forth.
I was swimming in a pool of beautiful theological dissection and insight, but lap after lap left me wondering if the finish was worthwhile. Maybe I was just meant to be in school for predetermined pieces of life to push myself and/or others closer to the Spirit’s fruit-bearing, to feel the ripping of the frail human condition, to hear that one line that keeps us from straying.
I finish things. I deliver. I go big or go home. And as my body was in the process of cerebral conditioning and soaking up the fruits of my labor, I couldn’t stop from peeking outside of the pool.
What was I truly achieving here? That I could fall in line? That post-graduation I would pass the many litmus tests of mere mortals? That this accolade would magically open once-locked doors in the writing world?
All I knew was that I was done. And that was okay.
But, oh, how difficult it was!
All the time, books, papers, lectures, money?! I’m left to over-analyze the word “waste.”
Cut losses. Prune back. Edit the magic.
When it’s obviously time to give up, we want to race over to the next starting block, dive in, and forget the hardship and time spent on ventures past.
But I don’t care if it hurts; I don’t want to forget.
Writing—this enchanting, wretched, heart-slivering calling—screams loud in odd persistence. I put up obstacles—my rejection letter display, and writer’s block, and animals that need to be fed—to evaluate whether there’s worth in continuing to weave these words.
Oh, Lord, how I have asked You to take this yearning away. But something strangely sacred lingers long into nights of foul rough drafts and having just the right word slip away.
To this seminary dropout, the water feels fine.
Desiree McCullough is a special education paraeducator and a pre-dinner writer. She loves challenging her three kids in chess and backyard races before her ankle gives out. Her family lives in the Walla Walla Valley of southeaster Washington state. Find out more about her at desireemccullough.com.