Sheryl WellsRing the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything, That is how the light gets in.”—Leonard Cohen

For the longest time I put off ordination. Oh, I had many reasons, or excuses. I needed to get my children graduated from high school and settled in college; I needed to complete a basic unit of Clinical Pastoral Education before I would feel prepared to minister; I needed first to be present with my dying father and then to care for his widow, my mother. All valid reasons, I know, but still, deep within, I knew there was another, darker reason. I just didn’t know what it was.

Then I decided that before ordination I needed to begin a spiritual direction program, and this became  my undoing. Through the readings and the classes, something began moving underneath my skin, within my depths, stirring me in fresh and quite frankly, sort of scary ways.

For although I had been practicing daily (mostly) contemplative prayer and meditation for nineteen years and receiving spiritual direction for four years, I had not yet moved forward into truly loving and accepting all of who I am. And I had no idea.

All those years I had been preaching and teaching about the love of God, love of self, and love of other. I preached about our need to bring all of who we are to God in our search for union with God, for wholeness within ourselves, and for right relationship with other. Despite my knowing on a deeper level that just as we often dream a similar dream until we get the message from our subconscious, I also knew somehow that I had been preaching the same sermon over and over again, just using different scriptural references and stories.

The story that I kept on telling myself and others is this:  God loves me in all my brokenness, in all my weakness, and in all those dark places that I had walled off inside myself. I knew that I would never be able to move forward in relationship with God, self, and others until I tore down those walls and allowed the lovelight of God to shine in those shadows. But still I did not get the message, even with all those opportunities!

Until one day, I did!  It was not an “Aha!” moment, but rather a gradual lifting of the veil. A little glimmer here, and a little sparkle there, a tug here and a following of a thread there, until finally, an image that would not let me go until I stayed with it and worked it out.

Memories long forgotten flooded me, and as I cried for the girl I was then and for the woman I became, I opened myself up to all of who I am, the good and the not so good, the loving and the caring me and the angry and impatient me, the serving me and the self-serving me, the animal instinctiveness of me and the divine spirit of me. I brought all of me up into the light of my consciousness, and I saw that it was normal, and that was good. I began to understand something more about grace, and how God in God’s infinite wisdom, can take all of who we are, and through God’s overwhelming grace, make it something good. Like Abraham and Jacob and Peter and Paul, flawed humans all, God uses our human imperfections to make us perfectly God’s, and perfectly who we are called to be.

I think that as women and as ministers, we often feel we need to be perfect for our families and for our parishioners, not realizing that in so doing we are denying God’s grace and we are committing idolatry. Because in our pursuit of perfection, we set ourselves up in God’s place. Only God is perfect, and only God can bring us to perfection through the implausibly impossible gift of God’s grace through the event and person of Jesus the Christ.

I am a precious broken vessel in which God’s light shines in and through and out of again. Ring the bells!

Sheryl Wells is a spiritual director and soon-to-be-ordained minister in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where she teaches, preaches, and leads spiritual formation groups as a pastoral assistant at Peace Haven Baptist Church. A lifelong seeker, Sheryl enjoys embodying the journey of the soul through the practice of pilgrimage.