Most Christians put great thought and energy into determining what our “call” might be. Ryan Pemberton makes a helpful distinction between God’s call on our lives and our personal calling: “Christian calling means being called by the living, resurrected Christ to follow him. And it is in following Christ, through continual self-surrender, that we begin to realize who we are, and what it means to walk with God day by day” (from Called: My Journey to C.S. Lewis’s House and Back Again).
Pemberton suggests that one way to think about our personal call is to ask, “What shape should my life take?” . . . How do my gifts and the needs around me inform how I will respond to Christ’s call. Calling, therefore, is less than a plan and more like a posture” (from Christianity Today, September, 2015).
Parker Palmer describes our vocation (from the Latin word vocare, meaning “to call”) as “something I can’t not do, for reasons I’m unable to explain to anyone else and don’t fully understand myself but that are nonetheless compelling.” He goes on to say that God’s purpose for our lives is found in God’s design of our lives. “Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic selfhood . . . the seed of true self that was planted when I was born” (from Let Your Life Speak).
When our Actions don’t Match our Calling
Sometimes, however, we are required to sift through our thoughts and actions to see which are truly part of our authentic true self and which come from our false narratives or our false self. We have to be careful that we don’t spend time and energy on things that are not our call. Some causes or tasks are not our gifts or talents. Some we may take up because they come from a wrong spirit – which we have not yet recognized.
In a blog on the website On Being, Parker Palmer confesses that he went through times of deep depression and confusion because he didn’t look at which parts of his life fit his calling and which did not.
“As I took on various issues and causes, I never stopped to ask, “Does such-and-such fit my sense of who I am?” Or, “Is such-and-such truly my gift and my calling?” As a result, important parts of the life I was living were not mine to live, and were thus bound to fail.”
As a recovering enabler, I strongly identify with the concept that “parts of the life I was living were not mine to live and were thus bound to fail.” As I intervened in people’s lives, gave advice, and helped where I was not wanted or needed, I was living a life that wasn’t mine to live and all those efforts failed. I was obedient to the strong false narrative that helping others would bring love and fill the hole in my heart Depression and confusion were the result. Life changed when I began to understand “the ground of my own being.”
Sometimes churches encourage us to take on roles that do not “fit [our] sense of who [we are].” If a church is very program-oriented, slots need to be filled. Often the recruitment of volunteers to fill those slots produces guilt rather than encouraging us to find a role that is fits our gifts and calling.
My first experience of this was long ago when I was cajoled and begged to teach in the Vacation Bible School program. I knew that was not my talent or even my interest, and certainly not my spiritual gift. But I succumbed to the pressure and was miserable the entire week. (Perhaps the kids just as miserable!) It was not until I taught my first class of adults that I understood the concept of allowing my gifts and the needs around me inform how I will respond to Christ’s call.
If your find yourself in a position of making choices about your calling in life, try the following:
- Look at the shape of your story – past and current. What do you see?
- Answer the question, “What is it that I can’t not do?”
- Become more and more aware of God’s design of your life?
- What is fitting and authentic for you to do? What comes from your “true” self.
- Follow your heart and passion to wherever the world’s deep hunger lives.
Ryan Pemberton closes his book Called with this challenge:
“Maybe for you being called means following God by staying where you are, but in a way you never have before; by using the gifts and passions God has given you in a way you may never have imagined; in a way that looks crazy to those on the o outside, but which you know is exactly where God will have you.
. . . Or maybe for you, following God will involve leaving everything and going, not know exactly where the road is leading, but knowing the road you’re on is the road where he is leading you.
Whatever [your call] may look like, the important thing is that you follow – that you loosen your grip on all of the gifts and passions he has given you, everything that makes up you and that you hand it over to him and to the story he is telling.”