Spiritual Practice – Finding Your Calling

Finding your spiritual “calling” can be confusing because of three misconceptions:

  1. The idea that a calling is to a specific thing, like a “call to the mission field.”
  2. The idea that a calling is for life and never changes.
  3. The idea that other people know what you are called to do in this world.

Let’s look at each misconception. First, the idea that a calling is a specific thing. I believe that our calling from God is to “be” not to “do.” God created each of us with a divine spark that can make the world a better place. The Quakers say that we are all born with “birthright gifts.” We bring these gifts, or that spark, into the world with who we ARE no matter what we DO with our lives. Whether we work in a call center or on a mission field, we are all equal and precious in God’s sight and worthy of using our unique calling to bring hope and healing to the world.

It always bothered me how there was a hierarchy of gifts in Christian circles. If you were a missionary, it was the top of the pile, followed closely by any kind of full-time ministry position. Then there was everybody else. This creates a false separation between sacred and secular work. God makes no distinction. ALL work is sacred.

Then there is the idea that a calling never changes. Well, if WE are our calling and we change and grow all the time, the places that benefit from our calling will also change over time. When we are young in faith, we might be trying to find our gift-set by broad experimentation. We try a lot of things — for instance we might work in the church nursery, or a campaign office, or with the homeless. Over time we learn where our true gifts lie by noticing what gives us joy and energy. We realize that working from our “flat-sides” drain us. We learn to surround ourselves with people whose gifts complement our flat-sides. In this way we hone the use of our gifts and apply them in less broad, more specific ways. We do higher quality work with less effort as we are working from our true selves, the selves we were created to be.

Third, a calling is not a conference call. There is a tendency in certain churches to have folks give “a word” or “a prophesy” over someone else’s life. This can be an encouragement and a blessing. It can also be dangerous. I caution people to take those words with a grain of salt, especially if they involve “greats,” “mates,” or “dates.” Who wouldn’t want to hear they were going to be a famous speaker, or marry a certain person, or have something specific happen on a certain date? But God doesn’t usually give us that kind of information to us in advance; hold it lightly and prayerfully. We can allow people we love and trust to speak into our lives and compare that to how God has made us and what we know of ourselves as we make decisions for our lives.

For me we are all called to the greatest commandment:

To love God with our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love others as ourselves.

(Matthew 22:35-40)

THIS is our CALLING. To be who God has made us to be, gifted us to be, for the healing of the world. To LOVE others from a place of wholeness and not neediness, which takes some internal work as well. To be in relationship with God, to know and love ourselves, and give from the center of that love — that is our calling.

In what ways have you found God’s calling in your life?

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Spiritual Practice: Finding Your Calling

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I used to think that “calling” involved a specific word from God about your life. As if there was only one thing on earth you were called to do. For instance, when I was in full-time ministry, I thought that was my calling. But what happens if, like me, you leave the ministry? Are you suddenly “out of your calling?” Are you, “between callings?” This led me to a lot of questions. What if I’m working in a gas station, is it a calling? What if I’m housebound by illness? Is there still a calling?

Recently I’ve been reading, On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity and Getting Old by Parker Palmer. I love Parker Palmer; he is warm, engaging and funny. My copy of his book is now marked with smiley faces where he has made me laugh. In this book of essays, he brings up the topic of calling or vocation. In it he says,

“The way I’ve earned my keep has changed frequently, but my vocation has remained the same: I’m a teacher-and-learner, a vocation I’ve pursued through thick and thin in every era of my life.” Pg. 85

This thought rocked my world. I was feeling “calling-less” until I read those words. Then, the lights came on. Learning can be a vocation??? Oh my, that is me; I LOVE to learn. Learning something new is what drives me to get up in the morning. It’s why I read, it’s why I write, it’s why I listen deeply to people. I love to learn. I didn’t understand that calling was more about who you are than what you do. It’s more internal than external.

But, unlike Parker Palmer, teaching was not my vocation. I had to think hard about how to describe the other part of my calling. I realized it’s communication, and, specifically, communicating hope. The tag line on my website is “Infusing Reality with Hope.” Hope is in all my books, it is reflected in how I do counseling, it’s in my spiritual direction practice. It’s evident every time I speak, teach, or train. It’s just who I am.

parker plamer

So, my calling is learning-and-communicating hope. What is yours? Here are some ideas to consider when trying to discover your calling:

  1. I think most callings have an inward and outward expression.
  2. I think these callings are innate within you already, from the time you are born. They are part of your inborn personality, or as the Quaker’s say, a birthright gift.
  3. I think they are evident no matter what you are doing for a job. You’ll be able to see these gifts across your lifetime whether you’re scrubbing toilets, teaching kindergarten, or living as an AIDS worker in Africa.

Why is it important to find your calling? For me, it was a freeing exercise. Once I left the ministry, I felt “calling-less,” and I tried to think of my next jobs as callings, but they just didn’t fit. Realizing that your calling/vocation is about who you are, relieves a lot of pressure on the things you do for a living. I like to write, but if writing was my calling, it would feel very weighty and it would lose its lightness and fun. If I put the burden on something I “do,” it feels heavy. If my calling is something I “am,” it feels natural. So, what is your calling? Let me know if you think you find it. This should be fun!