Myths and realities of how God calls us
She found me in the church kitchen. “I know you are busy, but…” her fingers plucked at her sweater. “Can I talk to you for a minute?” I leaned on the doorjamb and leaned into the conversation. Life was hard, she said. She wondered if I could pray for her to get this new job, and she wanted to ask me about how I got to the ministry position I held at the church.
She looked down at the floor and kept picking at her sweater, and the words tumbled out. Being a mom was harder than she thought. Staying home and “just” cheering her husband on in ministry wasn’t so great. And as the words came, they became stronger and more honest. She was anxious for her future and jealous of his. “I feel like I’m wasting my life,” she said. “I just want to find my calling.”
This isn’t only one conversation I’ve had, but an echo I’ve heard from so many. And I’ve not only heard these words; I’ve thought them myself. Just how does a woman find her calling, particularly in ministry? Let’s evaluate some of the myths and realities of our call:
“Just” Never Is
If I could just get this next job…If I just had enough money for a babysitter…If I could just finish my degree…If my church would just hire me. How many of us have suffered under the tyranny of the “just?” Just is a word we should remove from our vocabulary. There is no easy or one-step path to our call. The word “calling” is defined as “a strong urge toward a particular way of life or career.” Calling goes far beyond anything we find on the other side of “just.” And because of that, the path to our calling is never “just” around the next corner. Rather, calling is about a becoming a lifelong explorer. Calling is about refusing to believe that we are defined by one job, one relationship, or one season of life. And because of that, finding the shape of our call takes time, work, trial, and error.
“Find” Is too Active
I recently lost my engagement ring. I’ve been in an active search to find it ever since. I look, sometimes haphazardly and sometimes frantically, searching in the same spots over and over. This is a recipe for insanity, since I know my engagement ring can’t move itself.
We talk about “finding” our calling, and I think we give ourselves too much credit. In fact, I think it is often that our calling finds us! In the intricate dance of our will and God’s sovereignty, we find that the path to our calling isn’t about just finding anything. The path to our calling is about taking one obedient step at a time, listening for our call rather than actively finding it. When I began seminary, I had the distinct sense that I was to enjoy one class at a time—focusing not on the end product but on each step I took. As my “calling” switched from ministry to counseling, from full-time mom to part-time counselor and then into full-time ministry, I’ve found that lesson to be foundational. John Steinbeck once wrote, “A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it” (Travels with Charley).
My Calling Exists!
You have a calling. God is actively, certainly calling you to something. He calls in many ways. He called Moses with a burning bush. He called Miriam through her family and her gifts for song and speech (Exodus 15:20). He called Hannah through the waiting, He called Mary through an angel. He called Paul through a blinding light and Nicodemus through a conversation in the dark. He is not limited in his creativity and he’s not nervous about your timeline. He’s looking for humble hearts that are fully devoted to him and willing to do anything to move his kingdom forward. He cares about those who care about the fringes, the young, the weak, the powerless. He equips us for the work he wants us to do, not the work we think we want to do. And he uses all of our lives—our waiting places, our frustrations, our experiences, and our gifts—to shape us into women who will be strong enough for the call he will place on our lives.
So What Next?
My friend in the church kitchen that day has a calling—although it’s not yet clear what that is. You have a calling too, and no matter where you are on your journey, you aren’t going to miss it. You aren’t going to pass by one opportunity or one job or one option and be useless in God’s hands. He didn’t give up on Peter when he denied him three times at the cross, and he won’t give up on you. God’s too big for that. So don’t worry about missing it. God’s not concerned about your timeline, and he won’t be late for his own agenda for your life.
The secret of our calling, it seems, is not so much in “just finding a calling” through the expected channels, but in the unexpected detours. Calling is not about a job description, although sometimes a job description captures some of it. Calling reaches beyond resumes and positions. Calling is like personality—steady over time and through circumstances.
In my own season of wrestling with calling, I had the opportunity to hear author Parker Palmer speak. His words were helpful: “Your calling is anything that you can’t not do.” When we’re young, sometimes we think there are a million things “we can’t not do.” But with experience, with waiting, with humbling ourselves and allowing God to shape us into souls he can use, our calling becomes clearer. We begin to let go of what we can do without. And like a Polaroid picture slowly coming into vision, our calling becomes sharper, clearer. We begin to make decisions based on the broad strokes of things “we can’t not do”…like showing mercy, working for justice, or embracing our call to lead. Our calling might take us into the classroom or the homeless shelter or our own kitchens or our church offices. But it will not be limited by a job, because our calling becomes part of us, part of our spiritual DNA.
Annie Dillard once said, “I think it would be well, and proper, and obedient, and pure, to grasp your one necessity and not let it go, to dangle from it limp wherever it takes you” (Living Like Weasels).
And so I told my friend, that day in the kitchen, that her life mattered and that God had not forgotten her. I told her to persevere and ask God to open her eyes to what he was teaching her. And I told her to move forward with her life, knowing that this hidden time might turn out to be the most important part of “just finding her calling.” And that’s worth waiting for.
Nicole Unice is a ministry leader at Hope Church in Richmond, VA, a regular contributor for Today’s Christian Woman, and author of She’s Got Issues (Tyndale). You can find her blogging at NicoleUnice.com or on Twitter @nicoleunice.