The Myth of Calling
When I was nineteen years old, I wanted more than anything else in the world to become a published songwriter. I was completely consumed with this idea, believing it was my one and only true calling from God for my life. Of course, now I know that there is another name for that kind of magical thinking: it's a mental disorder called "Delusions of Grandeur." Needless to say, the songwriting thing didn't work out. But thirty years later, here I am sitting in a suburban Pennsylvania office, working in a corporate management position. Am I happy and fulfilled now? Sure, pretty much. I enjoy my job. I am good at, and I make a decent living. Isn’t that what everyone wants? It’s just that this is not what I had so passionately imagined for myself when I was younger. Life kind of hammered out a path for me that I never would have dreamed of, on my own. Through years of iterative circling and evolving and reinventing, I created an entirely new calling for myself - one driven by necessity, ambition, responsibility, and yes, ego. The circuitous route that got me here offered its fair share of anxieties, dead-ends, and despondency. In other words, the whole picture didn’t all just land at my feet in a prayer meeting one day. But in retrospect, I am glad for it. Because there were also a good deal of courageous decisions, defining moments and full-fledged victories that helped shape my career. Together, these experiences somehow forged the best of my gifts, strengths, and interests into the work that I now do. So what happened to my original, super-spiritual-sized "Call" from God? Did it change? Was I just immature and idealistic? Or was I unfaithful to my true calling, trading it in for something lesser? Sometimes I wonder if there really is such a thing as a true vocational "calling" to begin with - like it's some kind of contemporary myth we've made up to tell each other in order to prop up our frail sense of significance. After all, it is a fairly recent phenomenon in world history. For centuries before our time, folks in agricultural societies were simply born into whatever "calling" they were going to have. They didn’t have the vast array of choices that we have in the modern 21st century Western culture. For all we know, our gospel heroes like Peter, John and the other disciple-fishermen may have hated their work. I know that I would have, if I was born in to that fishing family. The smell, the mess, the fish-guts - Blech! No wonder they dropped their nets like a hot rock when Jesus came calling. Maybe it was better back then, not to have to think so hard about your life's purpose. These days we pile so many layers of complexity and complications upon our career paths because of so many possible directions to take. Like Joni Mitchell sings, we crumble under "the crazy you get from too much choice." Most of us are desperate to find that one elusive thing that gives us a sense of true meaning and purpose for our lives, as if it is a birthright owed to us from God. But God never promised to fulfill our career fantasies. He just wants us to serve others by being ourselves, whatever that ends up looking like. That's the only calling from God that I know about. And it's up to each one of us to figure that out. Last week HCB's Senior Editor Marcus Goodyear posted about this elusive quest at his Blog Good Word Editing, pointing out that discovering and pursuing "your thing" can be very therapeutic in the process of navigating through the stages of life.
"How do you figure out your thing? Is is just one thing–or can I have three or four? Does my thing ever change? I don’t have the answers to these questions, but I suspect they are at the roots of most mid-life crises. Being 35 and an over-achiever, I’ve decided to start my mid-life crisis early. Don’t worry, I haven’t gone out and bought a ridiculously expensive sports car and I’m not attending drum circles on the weekend. (Though, I could go for a good drum circle or a good sports car.)"
Instead, Marcus has decided to publish a book of poetry, called ‘Barbies at Communion’, which is coming out this month. (Bravo, Marcus!) I have a feeling this wasn't a quick or easy decision, and that it didn't all roll out before him like a VIP red carpet. But it's one more bold step in the direction of his life - of discovering who he is, what he is capable of, and where God might take him. The thing is, until we’ve been down several of these roads, we’ll never really know the extent of our God-given potential and the opportunities that may be waiting for us. It’s all fodder used to hammer out the path that becomes our own. S0 maybe we should drop the idea of "one true calling" and just look at our work as an ongoing process that unravels throughout our lives, rather than once and done. I don’t think one’s calling is ever fully defined or complete, because we're always in the process of becoming something more. And as for me and my comfy corporate management position? I can't tell you exactly how, but I know that I've not yet found my final calling either. I mean, look at me, writing for the High Calling Blogs in my spare time. What's up with that?