Rev. Teddy Ray, Lead Pastor of Offerings First United Methodist Church, co-owner of North Lime Donuts and Asbury Seminary alum, joins me on the Thrive Podcast today. In this episode, we talk about being called to love Jesus first and foremost and finding our second calling within community. Teddy shares his personal journey as he realized that being a pastor was more than “right and good,” but who he was created to be. With insightful questions, Teddy gives us food for thought as we overcome our anxieties to find delight in our one, ordinary life. Maybe it’s not as hard as we thought!
*The views expressed in this podcast don’t necessarily reflect the views of Asbury Seminary.
Rev. Teddy Ray, Lead Pastor of Offerings First United Methodist Church, Lexington, Ky.
I love the church, even when I don’t like her. I believe holiness is a real calling and an amazing gift. I’m constantly challenged, frustrated, and inspired by a call to simplicity & generosity. I’ve learned that brilliant people throughout history have a lot to teach us if we’ll listen. I think we give the church too much flak on many points, and not enough on others. (Communication will always be difficult and leaders need more grace than we often give them. But also, why do we keep trying to lead the church like a business enterprise… and spend money without theological reflection?) You can read more about Teddy Ray on his blog.
Heidi Wilcox, host of the Thrive Podcast
Writer, podcaster, and social media manager, Heidi Wilcox shares stories of truth, justice, healing and hope. She is best known as the host of Spotlight, (especially her blooper reel) highlighting news, events, culturally relevant topics and stories of the ways alumni, current students and faculty are attempting something big for God. If you can’t find her, she’s probably cheering on her Kentucky Wildcats, enjoying a cup of coffee, reading or spending time with her husband, Wes.
Heidi: Hey everyone, welcome to this week’s episode of the Thrive with Asbury Seminary podcast, where every other week we bring you conversations with authors, thought leaders, and people just like you to help you connect with where your passion meets the world’s deep need.
Heidi: This week on the podcast we’re talking with Rev. Teddy Ray, lead pastor of Offerings First United Methodist Church in Lexington and co-owner of North Lime Donuts. In this episode we talk about being called to love Jesus first and foremost, and finding our second calling within community.
Heidi: Teddy shares his personal journey as he realized that being a pastor was more than just right and good, but who he was created to be. With insightful questions, Teddy gives us food for thought as we overcome our anxieties to find delight in our one ordinary life. Maybe it’s not as hard as we thought. Let’s listen.
Heidi: So today I’m here with Teddy Ray, and he’s the lead pastor at Offerings United Methodist Church and one of the co-owners of North Lime Donuts in Lexington and now in Louisville. And so I’m really excited to have Teddy Ray here today. And we’re going to talk a little bit more about calling and his calling. I’m personally interested in this subject because I know we all have a first calling, but I don’t feel like I have a second calling.
Heidi: I’m not a Moses or a Paul, and I don’t feel like there’s something I’m just supposed to do. I’m excited to hear from Teddy Ray, and I’m so grateful that he could stop by today.
Teddy Ray: Yeah. I’m actually excited to hear from you. The way that you led that is so interesting to me. I’d love to talk about that. Can we talk about that first?
Heidi: Sure. Yeah.
Teddy Ray: So I have a first calling, but not a second calling. Say what you mean.
Heidi: I think first calling is everybody is called to love Jesus, and we are called by him to love him and then to love other people. That’s how I understand it. I mean, maybe I’m wrong but that’s how I understand it.
Heidi: But then the second calling is kind of like… I think a lot of times in America it gets confused with what you do from 8:00 to 5:00, like my career is my second calling. I think I get hung up, and I think maybe a lot of people get hung up on what you do 8:00 to 5:00.
Heidi: And it seems like sometimes it can be like if I find the thing… like you, there was a time that you were like, “I know being a pastor is right and good, but it’s not what I was…” you didn’t feel like it was your calling, you know?
Heidi: So I want to talk about that and the moments, the journey that you had that you were like, “Okay, I know I’m called now.” But then how can the rest of us find that too?
Teddy Ray: Right. Yeah, what do we do without that calling? Do we just scrape by in life wondering what we’ve missed or if God has nothing bigger for us?
Teddy Ray: What you’re doing right now, you’re saying not calling it’s just… why are you doing it?
Heidi: I like it.
Teddy Ray: I got to do something, right? I got to wake up and do something.
Heidi: Yeah. I mean, I think the seminary is… I mean, they have a great mission or whatever and I love that I can do this and make money and pay the bills. But when people say, “Are you called to Asbury Seminary?” I’m like, “No.” But it’s not like I’m like, “No, I’m not called. Like this is not of God.” It’s not like that. But you know what I mean?
Teddy Ray: Right. Yeah. So you could take a call, somebody call you and they have some great new job offer tomorrow and you could go launch into that and you wouldn’t feel like you were abandoning your calling in any way or something like that.
Heidi: No, not a bit. Then it leads to the questions of, is there something I’m supposed to be doing. People listening to this podcast they’re thinking about coming to seminary maybe, or maybe they’re just listening but they have a decision to make. How do you know which decision is the right one?
Teddy Ray: The world where I hear this question most in, if it’s not in calling and professional world, it’s in like soulmate world, right? Isn’t this the other place that we hear it?
Teddy Ray: How do I know he’s the one? How did know she’s the one? What if I’m choosing the wrong one? I think they probably have a lot that runs together. And I think this relates to something bigger about what our faith can speak to in this day and age.
Heidi: Yes, tell us about that.
Teddy Ray: Which is talk about sin and anxiety about guilt at least to me, pastorally seem of less interest. I see less anxiety today about what’s going to happen when I die, and where will I go when I die. I see a lot more anxiety about what if I go the wrong direction while I’m alive. What if I choose the wrong spouse, if this isn’t the person God had for me what happens? If I break the whole future, right? Isn’t that what we’re doing? It’s like I broke God’s plan. He had one way, right?
Heidi: We do. Yeah. No, I’ve been there. Yeah.
Teddy Ray: And same with career and vocational things. What if God had this one track for me and I got off the rail, what happens? Does he create a new track or am I just forever off?
Heidi: Right. I remember one of my aunts told me once she had done something and she’s like, “I’m on God’s plan B for my life.” Which terrified me because I was like, “What if I get on plan B?”
Teddy Ray: Right. So there’s this whole new anxiety that’s not, what happens after I die, but what happens if I go wrong while I’m living. And I think it applies not just to Christians. Even if you don’t use God language with it this is what our society talks about.
Teddy Ray: There’s so much focus on self-development, self-actualization. How do I be the best me I can be. All of that. This is where I think it’s a great evangelistic opportunity first of all. At some point we need to come back to calling stories, but what an opportunity. You can sit with almost anyone and say, “Tell me about calling. What are you made for? What are you created for?” And they can talk about that, right?
Teddy Ray: I’ll come to my story with that then because hopefully these relate.
Teddy Ray: I was in ministry I guess 10 years or so when I wouldn’t have said calling. I wouldn’t have used that word in the way that it’s used. If somebody said, “So when did you know you were called to ministry?” I would have given them this long, elaborate story of different people saying, “Hey, you can do this. Can you do this?” And I don’t regret that. In fact, I really appreciate some elements of it. It was not about me experiencing or making this decision. It was much more about community.
Teddy Ray: And I think for all of us, calling needs to have a lot more to do with community than we typically give it today.
Heidi: Yeah. We’re very individualistic about that and lots of things I think.
Teddy Ray: Right. You go on this process of self-discovery and then you come announce to the world what you’re supposed to be rather than… I have a friend who is struggling through right now his future. This is calling stuff. He’s struggling through his future and I say to him, “Well you’re so incredible at this one thing.” And he says, “Yeah, am I really up to that? Can I really do that?”
Teddy Ray: And as we talked is aid, “So this is imposter syndrome right?” And he said, “Oh totally. I don’t feel like I should be doing this stuff. Who am I? How can I be qualified?” And I said, “What do the people around you say?” And he said, “Well they keep telling me I should do this.” I was like, “So what you’re saying is all of these other voices are speaking to you about, hey you’re made for this and you do it so well.”
Teddy Ray: And I said, “Now, if it’s something that you just hate and you don’t want to do we can have a different conversation. But if you just feel like well who am I to do this when everybody else is telling you this is who you are, you can do this, right?”
Heidi: Yeah. I love that because I think we romanticize calling. Or I think sometimes we think it has to be something that we hate because we’ve equated… I’ve heard this. Because we think that what God is going to call us to we’re not going to like.
Teddy Ray: Right. I know it must be God because I never would have chosen this on my own it’s so terrible, right?
Heidi: Right. Or I wanted to do this… I mean, I think this can totally happen… but I wanted to do this. I was on track to do this and God called me to do this. And maybe I really don’t like it. You know?
Teddy Ray: Right. Yeah. So with ministry especially I’ve seen several people say only choose ministry if you couldn’t do anything else. And they mean that, I’ve seen them specifically say that interest light of, hey this is really hard. You’re going to have all of this great loss. You can only keep doing it if you’re certain that you’re called to it because you’re going to be so miserable is the suggestion.
Teddy Ray: And I’ve said back to some of those, yeah there’s some of that but also do it if you find great joy in this. And if people around you keep telling you that you should do it. Don’t do it as last resort because you feel like you must. Do it because it’s good. So if you’re having that in your life… and I understand why we would be hesitant to use words like calling because it would suggest that if you go do something else it’s a total mistake and you’ve screwed up your life.
Teddy Ray: But somebody who’s coming and asking me about potentially getting married, I don’t talk to them about are they the one? What if there’s somebody else out there for you? It’s, do you make each other better? Do you delight in this person? Can you take a covenant to be with them? And that’s totally different language. I feel like maybe we need to talk more about delight with calling.
Heidi: Yes, I agree. Yeah, but you were starting to tell your story a little bit.
Teddy Ray: Yeah. Sorry I keep running off those tracks but we can get back on them.
Heidi: We can because there’s not one plan for this podcast.
Teddy Ray: I love it. So 10 years, didn’t really have that if people said, “So when were you called?” I was like, “I don’t know. People keep telling me to do this, and I’m doing it and I love it. But I’m not certain if I got another phone call today I think maybe I could go do it and that’d be okay with God and with me.”
Teddy Ray: And then our family decided to take this sabbatical to Spain for a year. One of the most important parts of that ended up being a part before I left where there was a decent bit of conversation about if we’d just go ahead and fill my job temporarily so that I could come back to it. And that had some merit to it, especially the not being scared about what in the world happens on the other end of this.
Teddy Ray: Mike Powers was my senior pastor at the time. He was near retirement and had… maybe he’s always been this wise. But at least he had accumulated this wisdom over the years. I remember him sitting with me and saying, “You’re supposed to be able to hear from God on this in this year on this trip. If we lock in what you’re doing on the other side we’re really limiting what you’re hearing. And I don’t think we should lock that in.”
Teddy Ray: What a freeing decision he made for me in that moment to say, “Let’s let you go and just be open to the future.” And we decided for the first six months we’re only looking backward with gratitude. We’re not going to be anxious about the future because otherwise from the moment we put feet on the ground in Spain I could have been anxious about what’s next. So he said, “We can’t do that. Just look back just with gratitude. But then the final six months we’ve got to start looking forward.” And as we start doing that some really unexpected things happen. So we refilled my job with two new people who were expected to stay.
Heidi: And you were okay with that.
Teddy Ray: Yeah. Okay with that and maybe one of the more anxious ways of being okay with that.
Heidi: Okay. Yeah.
Teddy Ray: But had accepted it and was… Yeah, okay is fine. But one of them, Jason Jackson, was the Offerings pastor continuing in that part of my role. And he had ended up taking a full-time job in Oklahoma. So he started a conversation with me about, “Well, why don’t you come back? This is perfect.” That seemed like it lined up just across the board.
Teddy Ray: I don’t quite know why, but I came back and told him no. Senior pastor Mike Powers called and said, “Why don’t you come back?” And I said, “I don’t know what I’m doing, but I don’t think this is it.” And really thought that that was going to bring a lot of relief. I don’t know what it is going forward, but it’s not this. So now I can cross that off the list.
Teddy Ray: And instead it brought just nothing but grief. I couldn’t sleep. Lost my appetite. Emily, my wife, starts saying, “So why is the decision no again?”
Heidi: She’s so wise.
Teddy Ray: Right. This is again, community around you sometimes knows your calling far better than you do. And as she’s asking me that I can’t put together any good answers. Then just have this voice in my head start saying, “What do you think you’re going to go do? What is it? Is this not right and good for you?” Actually ended up… first of all I thought that they would move on. Mike Powers would go ahead, move on. And instead he came back and kicked the door back open twice. Because they did it a second time and I said no again.
Heidi: Wow, and they came back a third time.
Teddy Ray: And then he came back a third time. I want to credit his persistence. And I also don’t want to entirely attribute it to that persistence. I think somewhere along the way I recognized my own stubbornness. I don’t even know what I was rebelling against or being stubborn against, but there was this moment of I think maybe this is calling to the point of saying if I got the other call right now it would be wrong to say yes to it.
Heidi: Oh wow, how did you know that?
Teddy Ray: I don’t know.
Heidi: You don’t know?
Teddy Ray: No.
Heidi: See I was hoping we would talk, and then after this podcast then I would know how I could figure out my calling.
Teddy Ray: Right? For me it was just having had to go through that process. I think sometimes that’s what it is for all of us, is you’re forced to go through that process. Maybe one of the best things that could happen to you right now is somebody else call you and offer you a job.
Heidi: And would you take it, or how would you feel?
Teddy Ray: Right. And I’m not saying that it would be right or wrong to take it or not. But it forces that extra who am I, and what does community around me tell me about who I am, and what is God telling me about who I am? And you have to make a decision. For me on the other end of this there’s been this different level of certainty that I’m in the right spot.
Teddy Ray: I think some of that may have had to do with my own anxieties on the front end. That constant wanting to say, it would be okay if I went and did something else. It would be okay if I went and did something else. Maybe not allowing myself to just say, “Well fine, it would be okay if I went and did something else but this is good and I believe I’m here for a reason.” And just being able to say, “I think we can call this calling. Beloved we are children of God and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears we will see him as he is.”
Teddy Ray: And I think we can give up all the anxieties about will I be successful, will I survive and just say, what do I delight in and what does God delight in when I do, and those around me tell me the same?
Heidi: Yeah. Do you think it’s always something that you enjoy, calling in general? I mean, we all have bad days, you know? You are certain that you’re doing what God wants you to do or what he made you to do. So it doesn’t preclude bad days. But does it… do you think somebody could be called to do something that they hated, or would their desire change?
Teddy Ray: Right. So I’d want to ask those questions to the apostle Paul. We’re beaten, we’re persecuted we are the scum of the Earth. Is delight a word that Paul could use?
Heidi: That’s a great question.
Teddy Ray: I want to say he could for the glory of God, Christ for the joy set before him endures the cross. Crazy ways to talk about delight. But there is this… I think that even in the hardest of hardship there’s some joy in knowing that we’re doing something bigger than what we’re doing. And I think this is the difference between the secular versions of calling that focus just on a self-actualization, self-realization, let me be the best me.
Teddy Ray: And Christian calling that goes entirely the other direction because it’s not be the best you you can be, it’s the deny yourself, empty yourself. And in this we are these beloved children of God who are filled by the Holy Spirit. I want to make the claim that there’s a deeper delight in that that’s free of the anxieties of self-actualization.
Heidi: Yeah. That’d be nice.
Teddy Ray: Because the self-actualization there’s always, am I the best? Am I good enough? Couldn’t I be better? Couldn’t I be better? And it’s so focused on the self, and what if I’m making the wrong decisions now. Rather than the I am no longer my own, but thine.
Heidi: Right. Or if I should have made a decision two years ago or whatever, this changed my course now, you know?
Teddy Ray: Yeah. So when you talk about first calling and second calling I think what first calling does is it calls us to really to claim I am no longer my own but thine. And I feel like in some way that almost helps second calling to go away.
Heidi: How so?
Teddy Ray: I don’t know if that’s too strong a way to say that. It’s all first calling. It’s all worship. Self emptying and being filled with Christ. And then we stop being so anxious about, well what if I make the wrong decision with my life. It stops being all of this first-person language.
Heidi: That’s so true.
Teddy Ray: That’s really easy to speak in abstract. It’s really hard to speak in terms of when you wake up tomorrow and say, is this what I’m made to do?
Heidi: Right. But do you think that’s even the right question then?
Teddy Ray: Yeah. I want to believe that the more we are immersed in the story of God and more immersed in worship we may still agonize over those little decisions. I think maybe we’ll start to recognize them as really little decisions, not the big all-consuming what if I make the wrong decision sort of things.
Heidi: I remember going through some of that when my husband and I got married. I was very much like, is he the right one. I didn’t think there was only one exactly. But I was like, is this going to be right? I kind of wanted a guarantee that it was all going to turn out fine. I remember we were talking one day and I was like, “How do we know that that’s is God’s will? Both of us want it, how do we know?” He said something very similar to what you said. He said, “Well, is it what you want Heidi?” And I was like, “Well, I don’t know right now.” But that’s a good question because I don’t think in that instance God was going to be like, “Hey Heidi, you have to marry him,” if I was like, “No I don’t want to.” That’s not a good recipe to start out with.
Teddy Ray: That you do it out of pure duty.
Teddy Ray: Yeah. The Christian life, I mean there’s duty, right?
Teddy Ray: But I think that duty and our worship end up coming closer and closer together to where it gets difficult to see the difference. I just keep thinking, for the joy set before him he endured the cross.
Heidi: Yeah, so then could it be that when I come to work and do every day I do it well, or trying to do it well, that’s my calling. If I slacked at work would you say I’m not living into my calling? Do you see what I’m saying or am I completely off base here?
Teddy Ray: Yeah. So why would you slack at work?
Heidi: Because you don’t feel like it’s your calling.
Teddy Ray: Oh, okay. So it’s circular. You slack at this because there’s something else you should really be doing.
Heidi: Yeah. You can. Or you can be like, “This isn’t what I’m made to do so I just do it. It’s what I do from 8:00 to 5:00,” you know?
Teddy Ray: Right. Yeah. Which gets into the bigger questions about what do you do when you’re stuck anywhere and you say I don’t think I should be doing this. I have a friend right now who’s in a job that he does not like. He’s already planning to quit. But for now it’s where he feels like he needs be. He’s getting a paycheck, right? So what do you do? Is there a way to wake up each day and do it to the glory of God, and what does that mean?
Teddy Ray: It’s a great question that I don’t have a great answer to.
Teddy Ray: I think it’s too small to look at these fragmentary pieces of our life and say, is this God’s calling or not. He knit us together in our mother’s womb and he’s given us every breath that we breathe. And every day is to his glory and that he’s given us to delight in him. And I do like to believe that even in drudgery somewhere each breath we take during that is a breath given by God. It’s always interesting to me when you see that even people in big and high up places, I mean our most common phrase for that is he still puts his pants on one leg at a time, right?
Teddy Ray: We don’t avoid a lot of just the commonness of life. In Spain I had a lot of people who thought that we were living a year on vacation. We were doing actual work too. I said, there’s also this difference. On vacation you’re able, for a week, to avoid a lot of the common work. But for a year you’re not. There’s still a lot of doing the dishes and going to the grocery. All of the common dailiness of life.
Heidi: And you were doing some work within a church too, right?
Teddy Ray: Right. Yeah, we were serving with a church there. So we were doing beyond that. But I think they envisioned this year-long vacation.
Heidi: It’d be nice, right?
Teddy Ray: Yeah. But I think we always expect that our experience of God is going to be in some big, grand way. And I think that has to do with calling, right?
Heidi: Yeah. Because I know I want, I think a lot of people want, this big Damascus road experience or something. Some people have those, but not a lot of people. Not everyone has them.
Teddy Ray: Right. And even those who have them, Damascus road was one day in Paul’s life. There are some other pretty big moments, but there are also a lot of days that are probably pretty ordinary. It’s a travel day, right? Or days that are pretty horrible by our standards. Being beaten and persecuted. Moses, there were some big days. And there were also a lot of very ordinary days with a stiff-necked people. I love asking people about their stories because when they start to tell you about their story there are some big moments along the way. But I think they start to recognize, and I start to recognize, a lot of it’s just the daily ordinary these are the people who I’ve spent my life with. And I can’t tell you the moment that changed that relationship or that changed my life. It just happened all along the way.
Heidi: Yeah. So what happened? You said Mike came back three times. I’m going back a little bit in our conversation. You said Mike came back three times to you and the third time you said yes. What changed?
Teddy Ray: What changed? My heart maybe? There was a change in my attitude toward the future, which was I was looking back at some of the things that were daily and imperfect and still allowing those to cloud out this is good and it’s for you. It’s like and this is a gift for you.
Heidi: Wow. Yeah.
Teddy Ray: And I think that whole six months prior had prepared my heart to be able to make that turn. The reason that I spent that or gratitude was I just recognized that before we left I had gotten to the point of quite a bit of cynicism, very quick frustration and said I need to be able to pull back and look with a bigger lens at life. And I said I need to focus on gratitude. So I wrote a bunch of thank you notes. And in the process just recognizing how much I had to be thankful for.
Heidi: Yeah. So what was the role of gratitude in changing your heart?
Teddy Ray: It was taking my nose off the particular tree that it was on and stepping back and looking at the whole and recognizing that, yes, there were particular frustrating moments, particular times that things didn’t go as I hoped, that I didn’t get my way. But when I looked back at the whole there were so many people and events and opportunities to be grateful for. But when you have-
Heidi: Oh my goodness, yes. I’m thinking about my own life while you’re saying… yeah.
Teddy Ray: … Yeah?
Teddy Ray: But when you have your nose up against that one tree… and this is some of even that dailiness of life. You let the events and the day hit you. And I think you have to step back and look at the whole and say, “Oh, a lot has happened here that I missed because I got myself so focused on that one thing or those few things.”
Teddy Ray: So we have these catechesis groups that occasionally a leader will come tome. These groups come not hey share about their lives, and their faith and faith development. Leaders will come to me occasionally and say, “I don’t think anything is happening. We are just stuck.” And even sometimes really frustrated or even angry that these people they’re just the same as they were a year ago. Nothing is happening in their lives. What I’ve learned to do, really from my own experience feeling the same way, is to encourage them to have a time where they don’t focus on the past week. But let’s take a big chunk of time talk about the past year. Say today rather than sharing about your week and your current state let’s look back, how are you different than you were a year ago? And leaders constantly come back to me just shocked. They are growing. Something is happening. But they had to take their nose off the tree and see that bigger thing.
Teddy Ray: And I think gratitude forces us away because we don’t fixate on gratitude. That’s the whole… You receive 10 compliments and one criticism and you’re going to fixate on the criticism. So by naming that you’re going to be grateful it forces you to quit fixating on the criticism and recognize everything else that’s happened. So with calling is there some way to change our fixation on am I doing it right, am I doing the right thing? And just turn to gratitude for, God you’ve put me here and here are the good things that have come in that.
Teddy Ray: And that doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ve got to stay forever. But to view the present moment as a gift and not just something we’re trying to make it through until the next moment. I think that’s what I mean by the dailiness of life. The present moment is a gift even if we wouldn’t call it perfect.
Heidi: Life is just not perfect though.
Teddy Ray: No.
Heidi: I want it to be. I don’t know about everybody else, but I definitely do.
Teddy Ray: Sitting with our daughter with appendicitis about to have surgery to get her appendix removed. In that moment I was not calling that a gift, right?
Teddy Ray: I wouldn’t have… I still wouldn’t say, “Yeah, if we could go back I’d love for that to happen.” But that moment now I can look at and there was a gift in that moment. Just that time even together, my grandfather on his death bed, that time with him in the hospital room was hard. But it was a gift.
Teddy Ray: And I think it’s okay to not see those in the moment, but at some point we need to see them as gifts. You said it was making you think of all the things you get your nose up against.
Heidi: Yeah. And it was making me think about things that I have to be grateful for. The when work does become a drudgery, because it does for everybody I think. I don’t think I’m abnormal in being like, “Oh, I’ve got to do this today,” whether it’s Monday through Friday or a chore I have to do on Saturday. But yeah, all the good in that too. I actually haven’t been super faithful all the time doing it, but trying to write down at least three things I’m grateful for every day. I think happiness… happiness isn’t the goal, joy is. But I call it happiness. So I write down three things too that I’m like, I felt happy when this happened. Which may seem kind of ridiculous. But it helps me focus on the good things that have been happening that day because I have so much good and so much to be thankful for and I get hung up on this project or that or whatever, and I’m like this is kind of boring. Why can’t I still do that? That’s what I really want to be doing.
Teddy Ray: No kidding. Yeah. There’s always that looking ahead. That why am I stuck here rather than somewhere else?
Heidi: And it could be at the seminary, it could be anywhere. I don’t think for people facing a transition… I mean, sometimes it can be like your friend with his job that he hates… but I think some transitions you look at it and you think, “Oh if I was over here doing this I would be happy.” But you take the things you dislike once you get there too.
Teddy Ray: That constant jumping to the next thing. Which is really interesting because Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung, are you familiar with her? She wrote this brilliant book called Glittering Vices. I think it may be the book I’ve recommended the most. And when she talks about sloth she talks about how sloth isn’t just laziness in the classical way. It’s not just laying on the couch. In fact, it might look like a lot of activity.
Teddy Ray: Sloth is avoiding… it’s laziness about love. It’s avoiding some of the hardest and deepest work. I think sloth, for some of us, can come in the form of constantly jumping to the next thing because that’s easier than sticking something out.
Teddy Ray: When you ride something out you’re going to go through difficult challenging times, but you have to go through that to really arrive at any sort of depth.
Heidi: That’s true. You were talking about you were walking through the process of calling with somebody right now. What do you tell those people who come to you and are like, how do I know what I’m called… are there practical things that you tell them to do? What does that process look like?
Teddy Ray: It’s very personal. It depends so much on where somebody is starting. A lot of times I’ll, at least pretty early on, try to say I’m not certain that God cares what you will choose. Which is just… because we get so hung on what if I make the wrong decision, the get off the tracks decision, right? As if Chicago or New York only has one answer. Is it possible that God has laid these before you as gifts, and whichever direction you go you can lead a godly life and honor God in it?
Teddy Ray: Early on there’s some is either of these direct defiance of the will of God in your life? Is there anything where you know God wants this but you’re running another direction? And if somebody says, “Oh yeah, I’m doing this out of a purely selfish motive.” Okay, well this is a really easy decision. But if they’re just struggling with which is best let’s take the one will of God off the table as where we begin.
Heidi: Right. One of the things I was thinking about as I prepared for the interview was getting stuck in your decision making process and being like, “Well there’s this, this, and his and how do I know which is the right one?” So how do you get from stuck to being unstuck and being able to move forward? I want to say live your life, but you’re living all the time anyway. But you know what I mean, you know?
Teddy Ray: You have to take the next step. Yeah. So there’s that. We as Wesleyans have to our advantage that we don’t necessarily believe that God has predestined and sketched it all out for us. I guess even if you believed that you believe whatever you’re going to do next is going to be all right, or according to God’s plan. But for us we don’t have to wrestle with that constant anxiety.
Teddy Ray: And I think it goes back to anxiety almost every time. We don’t have to wrestle with that God has made a plan and we can screw the whole thing up.
Heidi: That gives us an awful lot of power, if you think about it. That we could screw it all up, God’s plan.
Teddy Ray: I have a friend who told me that Wesleyan theology should lead to better art. I said, what do you mean by that? He said some other theological systems are very strong and clear and might make for good engineering, build a good building. But Wesleyan theology it allows us to celebrate creativity. And with that I think it’s better to look at our lives that way. There’s not one way to paint this picture. How much more fun… maybe this is why I’m using words like delight and joy. This isn’t paint by number. And it’s not like-
Heidi: If you color outside the lines it’s bad.
Teddy Ray: … yeah, you screwed the whole thing up. That was supposed to be blue.
Heidi: Yeah, what were you thinking?
Teddy Ray: Right? That’s not how this works. We’ve been given a canvas to paint on and there are a lot of ways to create beauty. And there are some things that would still be off limits.
Heidi: So back to the process that we were talking about before I sidetracked us a little bit, but I think it’s all connected, you asked the people that you’re counseling is there something you know you’re supposed to do and you’re not doing it? So if there’s not, then what?
Teddy Ray: Yeah. If there’s not then what? I have the friend who is not doing something because he feels like an imposter. Though he’s not. So all the next questions with him were, do you not enjoy this? Are you miserable at the end of it? Or is there something in your life where you really shouldn’t be doing this? For instance, a pastor who is living a life that is not exemplary. That’s not imposter syndrome, that’s imposter. There’s a big difference. This is someone who’s just saying, “Who am I to do this?” And I said, “Is there something going on I your life that you really should not be in this particular role?”
Teddy Ray: He goes, “No, I just don’t know if I’m fully qualified.” So for him I’ve been able to say, “Look at the community around you.” And then there’s the opposite which is… so Emily, my wife, is a physical therapist. And I frequently say, “You could be a great administrator.” And she says, “I would hate my life if I were an administrator.” And she’s right.
Teddy Ray: It’s not, “Oh, who am I to do that?” It’s, “I would come home every day to be miserable.” And I believe our world is going to be okay without her coming home every day miserable because she was an administrator. She has the giftings for it, but it doesn’t match her temperament. And even if her friends all say, “Hey you could do this,” for her I would live in misery. I don’t think we have to look at that and say, “But to God be the glory while you suffer, right?” You see how differently those conversations go?
Heidi: Yes, I do. Yeah.
Teddy Ray: And with each one I think we have to ask all these questions. What is holding you back from a particular decision. What’s making you anxious about your current state?
Heidi: Right. Because I think sometimes we can want to move on because we feel like… I think especially in American culture… we feel like we should always be moving to the next thing, there should always be something better, there should be a different degree, there should be a career change. And I think that goes back to what you were saying about it’s all about self-fulfillment and selfishness. None of those things are bad.
Teddy Ray: No, it’s fine. But there’s a deeper goal here. This is where I just heard Jim Collins, he’s the guy who wrote Good to Great. And he talked about meeting with Peter Drucker towards the end of his life. And he asked something, his last question to him was about how he could repay him. He said Peter Drucker ended up saying, “I want to change one thing about how you’re viewing things, or how you’re asking questions.” He said, “You seem very interested in survival. I’m pretty sure you’re going to survive. You seem interested in pursuing success. I just don’t think that’s the question. I think the question you need to ask is how can I be useful?” And he said, “Those are the last word Peter Drucker ever said to me.”He gets out of the door, he says that, he shuts the door. That’s it. This mic drop moment.
Heidi: Yeah. What a good question though.
Teddy Ray: What a question. And this is secular world, management sort of stuff that I think still applies to us. Isn’t this so many of us, we’re scared about survival. So our anxiety is, what if I don’t make it? Or we’re scared that we’re not going to be successful enough. We weren’t all we could be. And to instead ask how we can be useful… and I think, for us, as Christians that begins with we’re children of God and God delights in using us, and we should work really hard. But I think that’s different than worrying really hard about whether we’re doing it right. I think sometimes we mistake the two. We worry really hard and we think we’re doing good work, right?
Heidi: Yeah, we do.
Teddy Ray: So that’s been helpful to me just in asking. God is going to be okay without me.
Heidi: Yeah. It’s a weird thing. We are not God. I think we think sometimes we are in how we look at our decisions, but you’re absolutely right.
Teddy Ray: Right. So God will be okay without me. Even the how can I be useful isn’t what would God ever do without me. But also God’s created me and put me here, and today’s a gift. How can I use it to delight in and glorify God?
Heidi: Yeah. It takes a lot of the pressure off.
Teddy Ray: Yeah. And if you screw it up today, get up again and try tomorrow. And not even try tomorrow. There’s that empty yourself. Allow God to use you.
Heidi: Yeah. Well, we’re almost out of time so I’m going to end with… unless there’s anything else we haven’t touched on that you’re like, “I really want to leave people with this nugget.”
Teddy Ray: No, I don’t know that I have any nuggets. I’m fascinated with the process. I’m fascinated just even to hear your process in trying to determine am I doing what I should do, and what does it mean if there’s no second calling?
Heidi: Right. Yes. What does that-
Teddy Ray: Is this an unfulfilled life?
Heidi: … Right. That is one of my biggest years that I’ll get to be 70 years old and look back on my life and be like, “I did nothing.” Not like big dreams of winning a Nobel Prize. That’s not it. Just feeling like, “Man…” I look at other people. My parents are in their 70s right now. So I look at their lives and I’m like, “You guys had a great life. You’ve been married almost 50 years. You served Jesus.”
Heidi: And I was thinking about it while you were talking. I was like, my dad does whatever it takes to be useful. Sometimes to his own detriment. So there has to be balance. So I look at their lives and I’m like, it’s good but they were very ordinary lives if you want to call it that. They didn’t set out to do big things. But my fear is I’ll get to being 70 and I’ll be like, “Yeah, I did nothing.”
Teddy Ray: That’s it. What an ordinary life I lived. So I just sat with a group of seminarians two hours ago and asked them why they ended up here essentially. Why are you at seminary? What were the things that happened, the influences in your life? Most of them… what the story was filled with was ordinary people. Just ordinary people and their lives who invested in them, who noticed them, and those people are part of other people’s histories because of it.
Teddy Ray: I don’t know that they were trying to achieve greatness. And if they tried too hard to achieve greatness they probably wouldn’t have been part of those stories today.
Heidi: Yeah. That makes sense. Well, I have three questions that I’m ending every podcast interview with. You’re going to get four because you’re one of the co-owners of North Lime. So I’m curious about what your favorite donut is.
Teddy Ray: Oh, that is an easy question. It’s the winner of the 2019 Donut Madness. I picked it because it was my favorite and I was sure everyone else would love it. It’s the blueberry glazed. It’s a simple donut but it is so good.
Heidi: That sounds amazing. We get them every once in a while in the office and it’s always a treat. I love it. So what is one practice, spiritual or otherwise, that is helping you thrive in your life right now?
Teddy Ray: Sabbath.
Heidi: And what does that mean?
Teddy Ray: It means from Friday at sundown to Saturday at sundown at its best… you know how I know 90% of it is whether I’m looking at a screen.
Heidi: So true.
Teddy Ray: Because I’m looking at a screen with the rest of my life. So for instance, if somebody ended up in the hospital from my congregation on a Saturday I’d probably show up and I wouldn’t feel like, oh this is a violation of Sabbath. I’m not supposed to be working today. But when I’m looking at a screen I’m usually just trying to take care of things that I spend the rest of my life taking care of and I think part of what Sabbath does for me is again reminds me that somehow God’s going to make it without me.
Heidi: Yeah. Just gives you a break too.
Teddy Ray: Yeah. It’s been deeply formative for me because it’s hard for me to sit still. And Sabbath isn’t always literally sitting still. But I think the things that torment me the most here is we’re talking bout self-actualization and realization, what could I be getting done in this moment that I’m not?
Heidi: I have those thoughts all the time.
Teddy Ray: Yeah. It’s very damaging to a relationship because if you spend an hour just sitting with somebody surely you could have checked that off in 15 minutes and gotten 45 minutes worth of work done, right? So it’s good.
Heidi: Yeah. Very good. What book are you reading right now?
Teddy Ray: Oh, I’m finishing reading Fleming Rutledge’s The Crucifixion with a group. This is my second read through it and it’s better than the first read. I’ve been reading pretty much everything she’s written over the last few months, and just went and saw her speak at Wheaton last week.
Teddy Ray: So when you talk about what have I done with my life I look at her now. She’s ending her speaking career. I think she may be the greatest living preacher. This incredible theologian. She’s done it.
Heidi: What’s something that’s still on your bucket list? Something that you really want to do, somewhere you really want to go?
Teddy Ray: Yeah, small and simple answer is the Grand Canyon. We’ve wanted to do that as family and haven’t. I feel like that’s a pretty small bucket list thing. But it’s life.
Heidi: No, there’s nothing too small, too big. Yeah. Well, thanks so much for coming by today, Teddy. I have really enjoyed our conversation. I just appreciate you taking the time. Thanks.
Teddy Ray: Yeah. Thank you.
Heidi: Hey y’all, thank you so much for joining me for today’s conversation with Teddy Ray. Grateful for his insight and the way our conversation has prompted me to look at my own calling differently. I hope you enjoyed it as well.
Heidi: In our next episode, Dr. Craig Keener, renowned new Testament scholar, joins us to talk about his journey from being an atheist to profoundly experiencing the presence of Christ.
Heidi: New podcast episodes released every other week, and you won’t want to miss out. Subscribe at iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can follow us in all the places on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Have a great day y’all. And go do something that helps you thrive.