As you no doubt noticed from my post of the other day, it’s clear that I’ve spent considerable time over the past few years thinking deeply about calling and vocation. I’ve read numerous books, articles, essays, and blog posts about the subject. The latest piece came this very morning as I took my morning stroll through Facebook, a well-written and thoughtful article in which the author opines that “Our desires should not be the ultimate arbiters of vocation. Sometimes we should do what we hate, or what most needs doing, and do it as best we can.”
This advice will doubtless resonate with a lot of people. I’d venture to guess the bulk of the Greatest Generation would identify with this perspective. But before we start pitting “Do what you love” (DWYL) against “Do what needs done” (DWND), I’d like to suggest that both perspectives can (and probably should) find a happy marriage in our quest to find a way to live our lives.
Admittedly, my own journey down this road has been an intensely personal quest, but as my thinking has evolved, I’ve begun to consider about how I might synthesize all this into something that would help others level out the learning curve a bit. And so I submit to you today ten questions to meditate on as you sort through the issues of calling and vocation for yourself.
The questions are grouped into three sets. The first set contains four “You” questions, which are intended to prompt us to consider our design. Since God hasn’t made me quite like anyone else (a particularly salient truth which my wife reminds me of regularly), I would expect that my calling be uniquely suited to me.
Then there are a couple of “Others” questions, which move us to consider the needs of others. A calling, after all, if it’s really a calling, should in some way extend the blessing and mercy of God to others.
Finally, of course, there are a series of “Reality” questions which force us to consider the realities of time and place and resources that constitute the milieu in which we live.
1. What is your personality type? Are you an introvert or an extrovert? How do you process information? How do you see and react to the world around you? Are you a thinker or a feeler (no one is totally one or the other, but most of us lean one way or the other to varying degrees)? How comfortable are you with uncertainty? These are essential questions of personality, and the collective combination of how you answer those questions are what make you uniquely you. It’s reasonable to assume God would not call you into something contrary to who he has made you to be, so it’s good to start with figuring out who he has made you to be. Personality tests are a part of that. There are several tests which can help you answer this question. I, like many others, am particularly fond of the Myers-Briggs test. It’ll get you started on the road to self-understanding.
2. What do you enjoy doing? What kinds of activities make you lose track of time when you’re engaged in them? What do you enjoy doing enough that you can work hard at it? These questions, as well, will tell you something important about yourself.
3. What are you good at? What are your skills, gifts, talents, abilities? Skills can be acquired and enhanced, of course, but there are some things that will come a lot easier to you than to others. Some people have a knack for languages, for instance. Others have a talent for for figuring out how things work. Some are skilled communicators, others have the ability to resolve conflicts. Your proclivities as far as talents go are part of how God has designed you.
4. What are you passionate about? What do you care deeply about? What moves you or stirs you (positively or negatively)? For instance, I am particularly moved (positively) by seeing others use and develop their gifts. I’m equally moved (negatively) by seeing people being mistreated or abused. These questions help identify the things you see and notice about the world around you and what the Lord has put on your heart.
5. What does your community need? The idea of community can be as broad or as narrow as it needs to be, but the point here is to identify the needs of the people around you. It’s reasonable to assume that your calling might have something to do with meeting at least some of the needs of the people around you. I’d also advise you to think beyond just the big things. While God may be calling you to impact a whole city or to save lives, he may also call you to something that might be thought of as a niche ministry. In his later years, Henri Nouwen was called to serve a household of but a few people with developmental disabilities.
6. What does your family need? I had an instructor once who told me that if he were single, he’d travel the world doing mission work. But since his wife was something of a homebody and could never stand that kind of un-rootedness, he was forced to settle. He said that he was convinced this was a gift of God and forced him to focus more than he might have otherwise. Ultimately, he thought he was probably able to impact more lives than he could have otherwise. I believe God calls us first to serve the families he has given us. You might be comfortable living in a grass hut and eating bugs while serving a remote tribe of people, but your spouse and children may need a more normal existence with a bit more income.
7. Can you make a living doing something you identified in questions 1-4 in the place you currently live? If so, fantastic! If not, read on.
8. How can you earn a living where you live or where you want to live? What kinds of employment opportunities are available to you here? This is one of those hard cold realities of life kinds of questions. If you live in an economically depressed blue-collar area of West Virginia, for example, your opportunities for earning a living wage may be quite limited. There are a whole host of reasons why you find yourself planted in a particular place and either unable or unwilling to move. Maybe you’re happy where you live. Maybe you’ve got family close by that you need or want to stay close to. Or, maybe you feel as though part of the Lord’s calling for you is to serve the community in which you live. If any of these are true, you’ll need to find a way to earn a living where you’re at. That will certainly entail doing something that’s readily available. In other words, you may need to be something of a tent maker, as the apostle Paul did in Corinth (see Acts 18:1-4). Remember, calling is not always the same thing as career.
9. Are you willing or able to move to another location to do something you identified in questions 1-4? You may be willing or able to move to another location, and doing so may allow you to make a living from your calling.
10. If you can’t earn a living where you currently live doing something you identified in questions 1-4, and you are either unable or unwilling to move, can you find a way to engage your passions and use your gifts and talents avocationally? Once again, calling and career are not always the same thing. In fact, sometimes in order to fully live out your calling, you may need to do something else for a career.
Sorting out one’s calling is challenging for us today, for many of the reasons I outlined the other day. I’ve found all of these questions helpful. Take as much time as you need to think deeply about them. Talk them over with those you love, and most importantly with the Lord. Ask him to help you find answers to them and the settled peace that comes with living true to both his design and your calling.