A year before our move to New York City, on the eve of my thirty-fifth birthday, Gabe surprised me.
“How about I send you to Denver, to spend a couple days with Pete?” he asked.
I knew what this meant. Almost a decade prior, our friend and mentor Pete had spent time with Gabe, unpacking his passions, burdens, and life story. They made charts and graphs, planned and prayed, and ultimately outlined the assignment God was impressing on Gabe. Together they gave language to his calling.
I couldn’t have been more thankful for Pete’s role in helping Gabe discover his true calling. But when Gabe suggested Pete meet with me, I immediately resisted. Our kids were four, six, and eight. I’d almost completed a decade of diapers and Cheerios and poop. The light at the end of the proverbial tunnel was growing brighter, and I wasn’t sure I wanted anything other than a break.
“I don’t want a calling,” I retorted. “I want a piano.”
Music was the foundation of my story. I learned Every Good Boy Does Fine, and All Cows Eat Grass—mnemonics for the musical staff—at age six. I wanted to reclaim this part of my story, even all these years later. I aimed to make music and melody again.
So Gabe bought me a used piano off Craigslist.
Looking back, I laugh. He was wise not to push. One person cannot force another to wrestle with whispers of purpose or compel her to pull back life’s curtain and ask God to reveal that part of her story, especially when that other person is simply happy to survive Target by feeding her toddler crackers off the shelf. The idea of calling felt intimidating, overwhelming. Like God, Gabe was patient.
As I found my story of anxiety resonating with others, I became more open to a discussion on calling. Pete came to New York for a visit and walked me through the same process I’d previously resisted. In the first moments of our time together, Pete quoted Viktor Frankl, saying “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but by lack of meaning and purpose.” This made sense. I’d moved to New York subconsciously looking for meaning, after a season of “lostness.” Meaning began to blossom, but not until after my season of panic disorder. Chasing meaning, I tripped over surrender, the place of releasing total control.
Pete said, “Calling isn’t limited to vocation, it’s rooted in God’s creativity and how he’s designed us.”
I considered the truth of his words. Our purpose began when God formed us, and he continues to call us as long as we have breath. The psalmist wrote it this way: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” God appointed his purpose for each of us, even in our mothers’ wombs.
I’d memorized all of Psalm 139 in college, drawn by the wonder that God’s imagination was so vast, so creative, that no two of us are alike. God wasn’t casual about establishing our talents; he ordained them before our days began.
I considered the uniqueness of my own story, the path I’d taken from the womb, and as I did, I began to understand my calling. Before I was born, God knew I’d be a reader; he knew that in fourth grade I’d read sixty-two Nancy Drew books. He knew I’d be mesmerized by the power of a good story. He knew the reader in me would long to communicate, to tell stories. God knew I’d major in Mass Communications in college, that I’d love the art of sharing messages.
God knew more than my passions and talents, though. He also knew the ways mental illness would unfurl in my family. He knew I’d give birth to a child with special needs. He knew I’d suffer from panic disorder. But the story didn’t end with my limitations and weaknesses. God also knew he’d equip me to use my gifts to share hope with others through my own brokenness.
As I unpacked my story and my unique gifts, I began to understand. Calling is where our talents and burdens collide. Our talents are our birthright gifts, the gifts that make our hearts sing, come alive. Our burdens are found in our stories, in what breaks our hearts. God was inviting me to use the gifts that made me come alive, to redeem the things that broke my heart.
As children of God, we have a corporate calling to love God and make him known. What’s amazing is that this calling looks different for each of us based on our talents and the burdens we feel for others. We don’t have to stress about finding our “thing,” but simply ask God to reveal his plans for us.
Calling begins with a caller! What a relief; calling isn’t up to us.
Callings are not one size fits all. Some of you may be called to teach, speak, and write. Others may be called to serve in the corporate world, or at home, or with your church youth group. Some of you may be called to missions of justice and mercy, to serving at the community pantry or the battered women’s shelter. You may be a preacher, a teacher, or an extraordinary giver of resources. You may be called to serve in quiet ways, to exercise gifts of hospitality in ways that go unrecognized. You may be called to organize or administrate. You may be called to what some believe is thankless work, but in God’s economy, it will be exactly where he wants you.
No matter your calling, God chose you for a mission, and he appointed a purpose for you well before you were born. This purpose is to bring glory to Jesus, to be his very hands and feet. And if the task is daunting, remember this: as he calls you, he leans in and whispers, “Don’t worry; I’ll empower your work.”