I’ve been thinking a lot these days about contentment, and specifically how it relates to my calling. When I use the term “calling” I mean the secret of who you are meant to ‘be,’ and I am not referring to one’s “vocation,” which is the truth of what you can best ‘do.’ We’ll talk more about that below. But for now, I mean what Mark Twain was referring to when he said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”
I feel like a calling is an expression that naturally manifests into action. Which means that it is less science, and more art. It is less brain, and more heart. It is less manufactured, and more organic. I hope that makes sense; I am not sure how else to put it. It is something that is birthed inside of you, from early in your life. And when it is expressed, it is the very best of you blossoming, coming forth, in all of your personal glory.
The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why. ~ Mark Twain
I’m pretty positive that unless I am fulfilling my calling, I am going to constantly wrestle with a crappy complicated feelings of discontentment that feel like frustration, angst, uneasiness, sadness, nihilism, and listlessness. I know that sounds intense, but I think you know what I mean. Depending on the context, some of these emotions rear up their ugly heads more so than the others. You get it.
I’ve spent my life chasing dreams, and accomplishing many of them. But to be honest, something is missing. Not fully, but definitely partially.
I know that Jesus said that if I try to hang on to my life, I will lose it. But if I give up my life for his sake, I will save it. I see that. I’ve been on this planet long enough to realize that ultimately I am not in control of anything, really. And I’ve learned that I don’t want to spend my life obsessed with building my own kingdom and being preoccupied with self-preservation only to have everything I’ve saved and stored and worked for taken for me in a blink of an eye (regardless of whether I die naturally or unnaturally, that is my fate. I always think about what happened to the rich man who just kept building bigger and bigger barns to store his increasing wealth: “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” (Luke 12:20).
I want to live a great story. And I really do feel like I “give up my life” for His sake – in terms of pouring it out by investing in, and loving on others. I mean, that’s what He did. That’s what actually matters – helping others through their lives…and offering some hope by reflecting His love and pointing them (indirectly and directly) to Him. And I mean it when I say that it really does fulfill me. But in this incomplete way.
Your calling is like a seed that has been planted, and then is watered and fertilized through experiences and revelations and struggles and successes and heartbreak and solitude, and then eventually bursts forth from the topsoil of your life into something that nourishes others.
And that’s okay, I think. Because I am convinced that each of us has a unique calling – a divine destiny – which we are absolutely meant to be, and work towards, and realize. I’m trying to figure out how to explain it, and I keep getting this word picture. It’s something that starts on the inside of you, like a seed that has been planted, and then is watered and fertilized through experiences and revelations and struggles and successes and heartbreak and solitude, and then eventually bursts forth from the topsoil of your life into something that nourishes others. I know that this seed, and its growth process – it’s a big deal. And it’s supposed to compel me to do my part so that it comes into fruition. And I’m supposed to not let anything stifle it – like weeds, or disease, or malnourishment. And I know that when things do get in the way (as they tend to!), I must remember that it was planted specially in me by a sovereign, perfectly-loving God, and that singular fact should propel me forward.
I’ve been mentoring my friend Francklen for like three and a half years now. I love this kid. He’s super intense, and bent towards being melancholy – just like me. He feels things really deeply – the highs are top-of-the-world high, and the lows are paralyzingly low. I get that. I can relate. Well, Francklen is trying to discover his calling – perhaps like most of us. And part of me wants to share with him feel-good quotes like the one we’ve all probably heard from Frederick Buechner: “Vocation is where our greatest passion meets the world’s greatest need.” But then I refrain from doing so, because I think a vocation and a calling are often (but not always) different. Instead, I want him to figure out a form of expression that “does it” for him:
that engages his heart;
that helps him draw near to God;
that brings him a transcendent joy; and
that he continually feels burdened (in a good way) to act.
Those four things: engage, draw near, enjoy, and act. In that order. He’s trying. He might end up being a civil engineer for his vocation, but a spoken word poet for his calling. I have no idea. Currently, he doesn’t either. And that’s okay, because he will realize it in time, and come to discover that it was in him all along.
A lot of my friends currently at FAU (or those who have recently graduated) are so fired up about their current trajectory to grad school or med school or law school or to be hired into a terrific job right out of college. And I can tell they already derive so much of their identity out of that future role or position or occupation. And I am excited for them – I was the same way back then. But I wish I could convey to them over coffee that their vocation isn’t going to fully satisfy them. Even if they win a Pulitzer or Nobel, even if they create the next killer app that revolutionizes life as we know it, even if they singlehandedly cure cancer. It is not enough. And they’ll need more, and want more. And they will realize that whether it’s in five years or fifty years. And realizing it later than sooner will definitely be more painful. I guess I just want them to be intentional about figuring out what they were made for, and being open to the possibility of it not being related to their academic and professional pursuits.
I think we get in trouble when we try to force a vocation and a calling to be the same thing, or otherwise overlap in some way.
Also, I think we get in trouble when we try to force a vocation and a calling to be the same thing, or otherwise overlap in some way. It can be, and I know some people for whom it is. But it’s rare. For instance, my friend Jenny is a life coach and I know without a doubt that God took her on a special journey so that she could learn how to infuse real hope and light into the lives of those who are stumbling in the dark. She is meant to do this, and God clearly uses her to rescue many lives. She helps her paid clientele, and she helps those who do not become paid clients simply because she must. She can’t not. I am thankful that for her vocation and calling dovetail pretty perfectly.
That said, such a convergence between the two is not likely for most. If that is what we are desperately shooting for, we’re just going to flounder about for years. And years. Because we’re trying to find perfection in what to “do” with our lives. We’re trying to identify the “end-all, be-all” so we can take it and run with it. As he is in his sophomore year in college and trying to select the best possible major, Francklen is having such a hard time because the choice seems so weighty, and the implications so severe and enduring. I love that he wants to make the right choice, but at the end of his life he will realize that the major he selected and the career he chose did not define him, nor did it fulfill him. We want it to. We think it will, when we are starting out, and when we are in the middle of it. But it doesn’t. Instead, his calling will. I want all my friends to understand that.
In my next entry, I’ll talk about how I believe you’re supposed to find your calling. Stay tuned….
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