A lot of books and articles tout the promise of finding your calling if you’ll only read what they have to say.
Calling is a popular and important topic right now – which is why I’m researching the concept for my dissertation. But I have some bad news based on the research I’ve done so far:
You won’t actually ever find your calling.
Recent research demonstrates that calling is a dynamic process that can – and does – change over time. Rather than “finding” or “having” a calling, people “develop” and “experience” a calling over the course of their lives (Dobrow, 2013).
“Finding” implies that your calling is playing hiding-and-seek with you: If you only thought more strategically about where it could be hidden and searched harder then you’d find it.
But a calling is something that you develop through experience. It occurs through a series of short learning cycles in “an ongoing, cyclical process,” requiring (1) deep exploration of personal goals, (2) trial efforts, and (3) reflection (Hall & Chandler, 2005).
Sometimes through this experiential and reflective process, your calling “finds” you. Other times, your calling emerges in fits and starts, morphing and molding as you gain new experiences.
Sometimes Your Calling Finds You
When I share with others about my struggles with Grant going to school, I receive conflicting “advice.” In the spirit of vulnerability, I explain that while I love Grant’s teachers and his engagement with his classmates, I’m struggling with working from home when Grant isn’t at home with me. What do I want in being a mom alongside pursuing school and a business? In response, some say that because I was chosen to be his mama, I should be spending as much time with him in these early years as I can. Others proclaim the necessity of sending children to school from an early age and how good it is for their socialization and learning.
However, I have also received a third response that has been the most helpful as I discern my calling – and that’s from my closest friends. As I share my tension, they ask questions like, “What’s been the most difficult part about it for you? For Grant?” They check in with me to see how the week or the day is going: “How’s this week been for you?” In these questions, they enter into my situation. And in doing so, they offer support, not prescriptive “should’s.” They don’t assume I should be doing anything or should be feeling any certain way. Instead, they desire to engage me – all of me.
My friends’ response has been so freeing because it doesn’t assume that I need to know the perfect situation for our family at this present moment. When I had the vision for my company and when I started my doctorate program, Grant wasn’t yet a part of that.
Then a new calling found me… that of becoming a mom. So while I am called to be a mama (and obviously this is a calling I take so much delight in!), what this calling looks like doesn’t have to prescribe to any certain model. Though that can be freeing, it’s also scary. In believing that we “find” our callings, we also feel pressure to determine their shape and form and go on our merry way.
But life isn’t static so our callings shouldn’t be either, which brings me to my next point…
Sometimes Your Calling Grows and Changes as You Grow and Change
I recently read a post from a very popular Christian blogger who was reminiscing about her small beginnings in ministry, praising the smallness of the start. She had wise words and truth to share about joyfully living where you are, but I couldn’t help thinking about how easy it is for those who have experienced “success” – whether in ministry, their blog, or their entrepreneurial endeavors – to see the value of the start and the small.
But what about for the rest of us? Those that are in the beginning of new seasons, wondering what the long term vision is and how to (or should I even) continue in these small things? If these are your questions, I’m alongside of you asking the same.
We like to think that if we sit in a quiet room with some candles burning long enough that we’ll understand our perfect calling and how to put it into practice. But calling is about experiencing hits and misses, reflecting on those ups and downs, and learning from them. I’ve written about that more here.
Understanding our role in the day-to-day questions – like me asking what parenthood looks like for our family – is essentially about identity. Eugene Peterson comments that our identity doesn’t begin when we begin to understand ourselves. Instead, everything we think or feel is a response.
How are we to know what to do with our lives, with our days? We respond to the One who created us. We heed what Paul says in Romans 12:
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
John Piper illuminates what is meant by testing God’s will:
“What is necessary is that we have a renewed mind… This is very different from constantly trying to hear God’s voice saying do this and do that…
There is a world of difference between praying and laboring for a renewed mind that discerns how to apply God’s Word, on the one hand, and the habit of asking God to give you new revelation of what to do, on the other hand.”
It’s one thing to ask over and over for an answer to your calling, which is what I’m prone to do. I think that if only we could craft a perfect schedule for our family, then I’d understand what motherhood, family life, work, etc. are “supposed” to look like.
Instead, we are called to ask for a new way of seeing things, and then to step out in faith. And if plans “fail” or we “fail”? We let this experience be a part of our learning and growth… and we believe what that Christian blogger said: There is power in small beginnings.
In the book of Zechariah, God’s people are tasked with rebuilding the temple. However, there is little evidence of transformation, making the people believe they lived in “a day of small things.” Then God asks, “Does anyone dare despise this day of small beginnings? They’ll change their tune when they see… the last stone in place!” In other words, the temple will be completed.
And not only that, but as we take small steps toward the mountains in our life, “the Lord rejoices to see the work begin.” And He will bring it about to glorious completion.