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Your vocation: what is it?

It isn’t exactly the same as your career or job, says Jeff Goins, though it may include them. Its scope is life-long: it is the theme you will return to again and again, however many times your specific job description might change. The fact that I’ve gone from teaching English abroad to housekeeping for wealthy summer neighbors in the rural United States doesn’t have to rock my sense of calling: I just choose season-specific tasks that fit into an over-arching theme.

Vocation can be your profession, says the dictionary, or it can be a strong desire to follow a particular profession, God’s call to serve Him in a particular way, or the life itself that He has called you to. The English word vocation grew from the idea of being “called.” (In Latin, vocatus, which is related to vocem, or voice).

In the Bible, plenty of people heard God’s voice calling them to this or that path of obedience. Think of little Samuel hearing God call his name after he lay down to sleep, or Isaiah hearing “Whom shall I send?” or Peter and Andrew who heard Jesus say, “Follow me!” Even Paul, who never got to meet Jesus while He was still in the flesh, did hear Jesus’ voice in a vision, directing him to a man who would lay out his life-task.

Does this make you feel a little left out?

I understand. But it needn’t. Our vocation is to follow Jesus’ voice as it has been transmitted to us in the Bible. That “Come follow!” is for you and me! The calling for every Christian is discipleship, and to be a disciple in Jesus’ time meant to keep your teacher company in his journeys, staying close enough to observe him, hear him, and become like him through constant contact.

I’m also convinced that every Christian reflects a unique facet of Jesus’ character, that each of us has a unique and individual calling. This seems much trickier to determine, doesn’t it? The teenaged me was fairly certain that I would be a pastor’s wife and raise a large family of children. I was not off the mark in valuing such a worthy calling – not at all! However, I had underestimated the creativity of the One who calls. That was my mother’s story. He had a newly lovely one for me.

“Pens and paint, a good voice production, and grease paint and things aren’t the only means of expression. Some people express loveliness just by loving.” (Elizabeth Goudge)

But how in the world did I discover what that vocation was?

When I set out to write an article or blog post, it almost always grows from a single small and lovely thought. As I turn it over in my mind, other thoughts surrounding it begin to light up. It’s only when a small constellation of ideas has become visible to me that I can begin to write, and the writing itself is an adventure. I don’t know exactly where the journey will take me, but the original thought is my North Star, my compass, and my theme, keeping me from wandering too far off the point.

Even before I knew enough to look for my own vocation, God was giving me clues – and many of them came from the reading I did as a teenager. C.S. Lewis wrote of the stabs of joy that made him hungry for heaven. Elizabeth Goudge penned achingly lovely books about love that pays down unseen sacrifices for the benefit of others – creating beauty out of the tiny, mundane choices in life. Elisabeth Elliot told me that everything, even loneliness, is material for sacrifice.

“Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.” (Jim Elliot)

As I matured, wrestling with many more years of singleness and many more job changes than I expected, other authors stepped in to help. Jim Elliot, who wrote, “Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.” John Piper, who showed me that because Jesus loves me so outrageously, I can make a sacrifice, say “My pleasure” – and find it is the exact truth! And most recently, Tim and Kathy Keller, who painted a picture of marriage that can be applied to any relationship: love is glimpsing a hint of the glory God is making in your loved one – and gladly cooperating in that glory-making.

I see these same themes in the Gospels: Mary of Bethany, who felt that her treasured spikenard, an exotic perfume costing an entire year’s wages, was not too lavish to “waste” on her Messiah. The disciples who walked to Emmaus, whose hearts were awake to the stab of joy that meant Jesus was with them – before they even realized He was there. The servants in the parable of the talents, who learned that not knowing how long the waiting season would last should mean an even more enthusiastic investment of the opportunities God sent their way.

As I grow older, I’ve learned more details of my personal calling. It includes telling the Good News, yes – that’s the assignment for all of us – but mine is especially to fellow believers. How, specifically? Often by sharing stories of God’s faithfulness, whether in person or through my writing and editing. For example, there are some younger girls who think of me and breathe a sigh of relief. They fear a single future less, because they can see that God has given me joy where I am – five or seven or a dozen years ahead of them –and that makes my singleness sweeter. He helps me “be all there” in every situation, in a way that shows He is trustworthy.

So what am I saying about vocation? It starts with joyful flashes of vision: you see something beautiful up ahead, something that God is doing in you, and in those around you. You start connecting the dots in that constellation of thoughts, and the picture is just clear enough for you to begin the journey. It leads you through long stretches of sacrifice – because, believe me, God’s calling is costly.

So what am I saying about vocation? It starts with joyful flashes of vision: you see something beautiful up ahead, something that God is doing in you, and in those around you. You start connecting the dots in that constellation of thoughts, and the picture is just clear enough for you to begin the journey. It leads you through long stretches of sacrifice – because, believe me, God’s calling is costly. T.S. Eliot wrote that single-mindedness is, “The condition of complete simplicity costing not less than everything.” That’s the kind of dedication displayed by my Teacher. He asks me to take up my cross because He took up His for me. But oh, my friends, the costliness keeps looping back around to beauty and joy.

Elizabeth Goudge’s book Pilgrim’s Inn is peopled with artists and other beauty-makers: a pair of troubadours and a pair of painters, an actor, a matriarch whose canvas is her family, and a young woman who’s gifted with an unselfish heart. Elizabeth writes, “Pens and paint, a good voice production, and grease paint and things aren’t the only means of expression. Some people express loveliness just by loving.” I would love to be one of those people.

Growing into a single-minded, sacrificial love-transmitter like Jesus: that’s a calling that’s big enough to take a whole lifetime to pursue.

Photography: JenniMarie Photography