A “calling” is not like a paperclip, which is a physical object you can see and quantify. It’s a construct, a series of letters wrapped around an idea. Given that it also tends to be spiritual in nature, it also comes with a certain amount of interpretation.
When I think of “calling,” I think mostly in vocational terms. It is not the only context in which this term is used. We might experience a calling to a particular place, relationship, or action. Calling can be something we work toward or an attitude about where we happen to be. We might be called to be a particular type of person as we move around in the world (i.e. kind, generous, forgiving, etc.). It can also describe something personal or cultural or institutional. In can answer the question, “What am I supposed to do?” With my life, in this moment, in this relationship, etc. But it can also answer, “What is the church’s primary purpose?” on every level from the new church on the corner to the universal church.
So not, you know, a small question.
The waters can get a bit murky. As human people discerning what may be a divine call, we might get it mixed up. Aka we might spiritualize something that’s just a subconscious desire we’re trying to justify. Like the potential romantic partner who says he felt called to pursue a relationship with you, then after one date says he felt the Lord tell him to not date you anymore. My dude, if you don’t want to see me anymore, you don’t need to blame it on the Lord. It can be a word used to describe a deep spiritual compulsion or something we sort of feel like we vague should do.
All that to say, how do we feel confident in our calling when it seems like people are susceptible to using the term willie nillie with any number of nebulous motives?
At this point, a good, Christian author would tell you to test the calling against Scripture, pray, and seek wise counsel. I’m not going to disagree with that advice. Since those bases have been thoroughly covered, we’re going to consider the question from a different angle.
Let’s talk vocational calling. I experienced a persistent call to use my voice (a long and wild story I might share at another time) in my late high school/early college days. At the time, that meant studying music as a singer and a composer. After a gap year, I stumbled into a master’s program in vocal performance (another story worthy of its own space). From there, I moved to New York. My singing voice and I were not on the best of terms and I began experiencing severe performance anxiety. On top of that internal reality, I was experiencing the external reality of trying to be a professional singer.
What happens to our confidence in our calling when the reality of that calling isn’t what we thought it would be? In this context, I was trying to do all of the right things that good, professional singers do. I went to the dance classes and the acting classes and had voice lessons. But I got to a point where I realized that the life I was chasing wasn’t one that I wanted. I didn’t want to sing music somebody else wrote eight times a week. On top of that, I was coming to realize that my voice didn’t feel like my own anymore. I was more focused on imitating what I thought a good singer sounded like than on singing like myself.
Had I failed in my mission? Or had I gotten off track at some point?
During that time, the creative nudges I felt were all in the direction of writing. That’s when I had an idea for a book on singleness. Four years later, I’m here writing these words to you.
Confidence is a fickle thing. I’m not sure that confidence always tells the truth. My confidence in the call to use my voice has come and gone. Part of that has to do with a question of talent–am I good enough? Part of it has to do with the particulars of that call–am I doing it right? Part of it is the outcomes or lack thereof–why isn’t this working out like I thought it would?
When I think of my vocational calling, it’s been more helpful for me to think in terms of faithfulness. I got this from a recent conversation with my book editor. To me, confidence relies on my ability to understand and carry out a calling in a particular way. Faithfulness helps me remember that this calling thing is a collaboration.
I think faithfulness to a calling means remaining open to the idea that the path might look different than we think it would. For me, it means that I get to use my voice here while also trusting that my love of music and all that training isn’t wasted. It helps me take the long view.
If you’re weary of trying to be confident, why not try on the idea of small, everyday acts of faithfulness (a phrase I unabashedly stole from my church)?
What do you think? Leave a comment and let me know.