Listening for God’s Call

I haven’t written much since our March Madness, because I haven’t known what to say. I still don’t, really.

This fall, at church, I taught led a Sunday school class group experience called “Listening for God’s Call.” I felt like I needed to process all of everything with a group. The people who chose to participate were a diverse bunch, from recent college grads and newlyweds through emptynesters. Everyone was in a time of transition; everyone was trying to find the Next Right Thing.

Some books that we shared or were recommended included Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak, Wilkie and Noreen Au’s The Discerning Heart, Leslie Weatherhead’s The Will of Godand Madeline L’Engle’s Walking on Water.

We had a lot of interesting discussions, readings, and exercises. One participant facilitated an exercise in writing Life Mission Statements. A guest presenter shared his own path of discernment and offered the idea of Clearness Committees (borrowed from the Quaker tradition), where you present a problem to a group of trusted people and let them ask questions of you. Informally, we became a clearness committee of sorts for each other, offering minimal advice, but a safe space to work through the questions and difficulties of our present moments. I felt, at times, a bit awkward about the level of privilege this conversation implies–how lucky am I, to have the breathing room to contemplate something as esoteric as vocation?

As is so often the case, an examination of the Biblical examples show that pop culture or mainstream Christianity is largely missing the point. For one thing, I always think about the moment when I will know my Way and Calling as a moment when things open up and become easy–a wide, clear path in a particular direction. Of course, the people in the Bible rarely had this experience. “Prophet” is about the clearest and worst job there is (as Ted Swartz says, in his show about Jeremiah, “It’s hell bein’ a livin’ metaphor.”). A sense of things falling into place might not actually count as a ringing endorsement from the Lord.

Lots of books and articles on “finding your calling” suggest examining what you’re good at and trying to find ways that your talents can be used to serve others. Then we look at people like Moses, who claims to be an awful public speaker with no leadership skills…

On the other hand, as JoEtta said, “We have to remember that most of the people who we learn about in the Bible are heroes of the faith. Expecting your calling to be like theirs is like expecting miracles to be routine.” She’s a smart lady.

We kept reminding each other that “finding your calling” doesn’t mean “finding your career path.” Paul, after all, was a tent maker, but we don’t think of that as his calling.

I think a lot of people got deep clarity from the class. It was challenging, and I’m a bit relieved that it is over, but I’m glad I did it.

Giving myself the time, space, and commitment to process these questions with people in my community was valuable. I don’t have strong answers about anything, but I think my questions are clearer. I’ve begun thinking about what a Third Way solution might be–how can I still work with college students, without being, as such, a Professor? For now, that means adjuncting, which everyone knows is not the world’s greatest job–but I’m glad to be doing it. As long as I think about that work as something I am doing for myself and not for money or prestige, it is quite fulfilling. My contract work in the tech sector is pretty good about paying the bills. Web and educational content design are my tent making. Teaching is my gospel mission.

As for JC, he’s still looking for something more regular, with predictable paychecks and teams of adults to interact with on a daily basis. We’re trying to embrace the good things that have come out of the layoff–he’s learned so very much about what he wants and needs in a job, and has a good plan for personal development within the context of being employed. The children have loved having him home every day. He’s had a few promising interviews recently. I’d sure love for him to have a job by Christmas, but we’ll take the life we’re given and be grateful for it.

A lot to be grateful for. Photo by Katie Smith
A lot to be grateful for.
Photo by Katie Smith

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