Thursday, August 24, 2006

Counterpoint to Silliness

Consider this an invitation to discussion (which I will inevitably back out of before everyone feels they have said all they want to say, and I will feel bad for dropping the subject, then, but I will be sick of fighting.)

Tell me what you think about Calling.

Does God call each of us to something specific? Is there one thing that is "my calling" to do, and if I'm not doing it, I'm missing out?

Does God "Call" some people only, those he desires in specific ministry positions, and the rest of us simply have a general, lowercase "calling" to serve him in whatever we choose to do?

If you miss your Calling can you still do something worthwhile?

And here is what is really on my mind...

Summarized greatly: When I was in high school, I felt that God was calling me into ministry. He refused to pin a definition onto that calling until I was getting ready to go away to college, when he threw me a little bone and told me it involved going to law school.

I came up with all kinds of theories in which going to law school was the stepping stone for ministry. The one I liked the most involved working as a criminal defence lawyer for homeless teenagers. I also kindof liked the one where my courtroom skills laid the groundwork for a career in preaching. Some less interesting theories involved things like being a useful church board member because I can read and understand legal documents.

So, I went to college, then I went to law school. Then I didn't know what to do next, so I took a job articling for a criminal defence lawyer for ten months that crushed my spirits almost beyond recognition. Then we moved to Philadelphia where I am not allowed to practice law even if I wanted to. And I'm wondering what good I am to God with crushing student loan debt, a couple of degrees I'm not using, and a job that barely makes the loan payments, let alone anything left over to live on.

God, I know you're reading this, so tell me: Did I miss something?

I struggle with this aspect of God's person. I must admit that it seems a little sadistic to the outside observer to call someone to do something, and then snatch it away just as they are warming up to the idea. I suppose it is foolish to think that I could even begin to understand what's going on inside that great big head of his, but doesn't it seem logical that God would couple a calling with some sort of enabling to do that calling?

A beloved pastor of mine from my childhood church felt a calling to go to India for most of his life. Yet every attempt he ever made to go to India was thwarted until the day he died, too young, in a tragic car accident.

Did God change his mind? Did he hear the call wrong?

I was struck by this same idea, today, reading Sandy's account of her return from Sudan. It was her post that got me thinking on all of these questioning lines, although I doubt that was her intent. I wonder if it would be easier to handle God's redirection if my calling had been clearer to me, but I suspect that it would be just the opposite. But whatever the call, the yearning that it creates is real and painful.

A book that I read in college comes back to me in snippets whenever I consider my calling. I never bought it, because I didn't think I would ever read it again, I simply borrowed a housemate's copy before our discussion times. The book was Mariette in Ecstasy, and I apologize to the author, because I will be quoting fuzzily from an eight-year archived memory rather than from the actual page that I never bought. I also apologize because I am going to spoil the ending in order to make my point.

The book is about a young woman whose only dream in life was to join a convent and become a nun. At the close of the story, as she is being ejected from the convent for a variety of reasons that you'll have to read the book to find out, she asks the Mother Superior a question very similar to mine: Why would God call someone to something and then not allow them to follow through? And her answer, poorly paraphrased, has stuck with me ever since: Maybe what God wants the most from you is not the thing that you desire, but the desire itself. If you find the thing that you are seeking, then you will stop seeking it. But a constant yearning for something that you can never quite reach is what worship really is.

And, while I am quoting books that I don't own, I suppose this comes close to what C.S. Lewis would call Joy. (This quote I found much more easily on the internet, thank you.)

I desired with almost sickening intensity something never to be described (except that it is cold, spacious, severe, pale and remote) and then...found myself at the very same moment already falling out of that desire and wishing I were back in it.

So, perhaps, God in his infinitely infuriating wisdom gives us desires for the EXPRESS PURPOSE of not allowing them to be fulfilled. Because desire is the highest form of worship.

Perhaps I ought to be channeling my frustration into the desire for the Calling, rather than into complaining about not being able to do what I want to do. Perhaps I have answered my own questions. Well, some of them anyhow.

I must confess, however, that a little part of me has given up on the call completely. Decided that I had it wrong, or God changed his mind, or I screwed up somewhere along the line and missed my chance at it. My yearning has faded from the intense longing that it should be to more of a dull memory of something I used to like, but really can't tell for sure anymore, since I haven't had it in so long. Therein lies the real challenge, I suppose. How does one reignite the flame for something that deep down, you've really mostly given up on?


Your Mom Prints Zines said...

I think I'll never get it.

For years I felt I was called to youth ministry and took steps in that direction. But gradually things evolved and that's not the path I took and Christian parents everywhere are probably thankful for that, except for my own.

So now I still work with youth and do good work and feel good about it and am satisfied. And now I don't practice religion at all and periodically question the existence and point of god at all. And I often don't know how I evolved from the former to the latter.

All that to say, it's confusing and I don't think there's any real answer but that it's something everyone must negotiate for themselves.

Christy're said...

I really wish I had a good answer to this!

I was reading the latest copy of the Good News magazine and there's an article about how God calls us to difficult lives. Immediately after Jesus was baptized and God said, "You are my beloved, with whom I am well pleased," Jesus was sent to the wilderness to do battle with temptation. Then he met with Satan himself! And from there, even though he won every battle, nothing got easy. I bet he felt like he was stumbling along as well.

I wish I knew what God were calling me to do--I could do so many things, but I feel like what I *want* the most is also the most humble (and therefore should be undesirable). My consolation is that perhaps Jesus understands our confusion.

Romans says the Spirit will interecede with a great sigh when we do not know what to pray for. I hope the Spirit is interceding for us now.

adr0ck said...

i wonder if some of the things we think are "callings" -- for life -- are just callings for something that seems much smaller to us.

for example -- maybe your purpose in going to law school was simply one time you ministered to another person you were in school with. maybe that was the ENTIRE reason you were there -- that one time you encouraged someone or helped them see god in a different way.

of course it seems so wasteful to us, by our wordly standards -- i mean, you spent years there, you have crazy debt from it and you're obviously struggling to determine what you're supposed to do with your life -- all for one conversation? or one relationship?

truly i don't know that this is the case -- but what if it was?

on a more practical note -- you've probably written about it before, but is there no certification you could go through, or extra few classes you could take, to allow you to take the bar here in the U.S.?