Perhaps you’ve been asked this question before: “What is your calling?” Maybe you often ask yourself about your calling and wonder how you can best serve God with what you’ve been given in life. I imagine most of us have thought about our calling at some point in our lives.
Both of today’s Scriptures deal with experiencing the calling of God. The prophet Isaiah is in the temple one day and has a mystical vision of a God so big that even the hem of God’s robe fills the entire temple. This isn’t so much a vision of what kind of clothing God likes to wear, as it is of a God who is larger than the mind can fathom. Isaiah hears voices calling out “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts. The whole earth is full of God’s glory.” And in his vision Isaiah senses that this larger than life God who fills the whole earth is asking him, Isaiah, to be a representative of the divine voice to his people. And there is this dialogue that happens between God and prophet: The Lord says “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” and Isaiah says, “Here am I; send me.”
In the gospel reading we have the calling of four of the disciples. It starts out being a story about fish, but ends up being a story about whether these fishermen are willing to follow Jesus and start catching people. The last line of the passage reads this way: “When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed Jesus.”
Instead of going more in depth on these particular callings from Scripture I would like to use them as a backdrop for some other stories. I was interested to hear how some of you have experienced God’s calling in your lives, if you have experienced God’s calling, what you think about the whole idea of calling. So I wrote several of you and you were kind enough to reply back with some thoughtful reflections.
So I would like to share with you some of the ways that fellow CMFers have experienced the call of God in their lives and then do a bit of reflecting after that on what these experiences might mean for us. I’ll read all of these in the first person, as they were written.
For me, calling seems to be connected to the community of faith that I am a part of. As a teen and young adult, I know that my sense of call was shaped by the conservative community of Anabaptists of which I was a part. But as I made choices to become a part of a different community of faith, the “call” looked different than it had when I was in the earlier community. Either my “call” took me to that new community or the “call” was shaped by the community and I suspect it must be some combination of the two. I guess in saying this I sense that for me call has not come as a bolt of lightening with “GOD here” written all over it, but a much more subtle thing which seems hard to differentiate from intuitions, interests, and passions which tend to be shaped and expressed within community. But I am OK with this because I believe in the goodness and divinity which comes through our intuitions, interests, and passions. In fact, this is probably the only “call” that I really feel safe with – one in which the divine works through the person I have been created to be and through the community of faith.
These stories don’t fit into any neat categories, but there are a few different themes that are woven throughout. This next story is quite different, but both what I just read and this next one remind me of a quote from writer and minister Fredrick Bueckner. This is the quote: “The place God calls you to is where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
It was around 5 o’clock on an August evening before my senior year of college. As with most of my decisions, I was having trouble feeling good about my choice of majoring in music. Standing in a grand piano practice room, a vision came to my mind of a room in which the left side was filled with light & the right side with darkness. Contained within the light was a grand piano. Then I knew I was not pursuing a calling that was too frivolous. The call was to find freedom to explore life — freedom not to be held by what I thought God & others expected, but to be assured that in the midst of confusion, God does not fail to consider my deepest desires & wants.
“The place God calls us to is where our deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
Our notions of calling and what we look for in calling can change over the course of our lives. Here’s a story where that is the case:
I’ve always struggled with the notion of discerning God’s calling for my life or as we more often called it “God’s will.” I used to wish for a clear direct voice telling me in no uncertain terms what I should do with my life but that notion was left behind with my youth. I moved to the belief that God gave us a general guidebook and some fellow christians to help us in our decision making. I had too often seen things that others would do in the name of God’s calling and figured that they either read another guidebook or did not check out the calling with their fellow believers. The Anabaptist emphasis on discernment of believers rang true for me since I know how delusional the lone believer can become about God’s calling for them. I have found that gifts you have been given and circumstances you find yourself in also are used by God as guidance. It must have been God’s calling that got me to Ohio since I distinctly remember thinking in earlier days that I would never want to live in Ohio!
I’m struck with how this next experience of calling has had ripple effects for each of us here. If it wasn’t for this calling that a number of people experienced a little over 30 years ago, CMF wouldn’t be here.
While I have never felt or heard a calling from God to be or do one thing or another, I have felt that in general, God calls us to do what we can. When I was first married we were living here in the city, and we wanted to be a part of the fledgling Mennonite presence in the city. We wanted to be supporters of what we saw as the possibility of a modern Peace church with outreach to young Mennonite persons and to people who had an interest in the way of peace. We wanted to be a part of this church's birth and growth. What we realized that we were giving up was the chance to live close to extended family and for our kids to experience a large and active Mennonite Youth Fellowship program and the experiences that go with that. I do think that our kids experienced love and
community in their growing up in this church despite not having an active youth
group here for them.
These last two reflections contain a sense of how the person has wrestled and is wrestling with the meaning of calling. They both also reveal that out of this questioning and searching God can bring a sense of peace.
I believe God does call – I have heard too many amazing stories to believe otherwise. A life spent in search of wealth often yields an amazing sensitivity to money – an ability to hear callings and see “opportunities” that pass the rest of the world by. Likewise, I have seen the results of lives dedicated to security, power, and pleasure. In each case, individuals demonstrate the uncanny ability to “hear” the calling of their desires. My problem is in discerning the calls’ sources.
I do not have great stories of calling in my life. Maybe in a couple ways, but all the rest of my major decision-making has been the results of the lesser calls, the sensitivities that spring from my own priorities. I do want to be clear – I am frustrated by a lack of supernatural, clear, awe-inspiring presence in my life callings, but I am not disappointed by the tremendous ways in which God has appeared as I live.Marriage and parenthood have been the closest to the exciting, supernatural “calling” experience that I’ve had, and I don’t understand them at all. My sense of calling, then, is not so clear as I might wish. Maybe God is more of a parent than I assume. Maybe God is literally calling me closer in relationship and all the other things about which I seek advice are truly to the side. This is certainly true with my daughter…I would never consider calling her to a career or a lifestyle – but I will unabashedly and always call her to a relationship with me.
The first time I thought about a “calling” was in high school when our youth group studied about listening to God’s call. The discussions were so abstract that I still remember the feelings of frustration about whether I was doing God’s will or not. This continued into college where a professor shared that he had also struggled with “hearing God’s call” and said that he found comfort in Jeremiah 29:11. ” For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” This took some pressure off of me having to find my life plan and helped me realize that God was with me, no matter what life’s journey brought. Since then I have sensed God’s call or leading in various ways. When I was in graduate school, I was wondering if I should be doing something more related to ministry. During that time I read a book where the author proclaimed – “Wherever you are, be all there!”. That to me was God’s leading, telling me to focus on the present and not to worry about the future. Later in my life, I faced a difficult decision when I had several different, but equally good options for employment. After making the decision, a sense of peace came over me. That peace felt like it came from God.
Here is a brief summary of what I see in these reflections on people’s experience of call. God does call, but often subtley, but sometimes not so subtley. There are other things in life calling us besides God, many of them harmful. Calling comes through Scripture, sometimes people misuse Scripture. The call happens in the faith community, comes from the community, is tested in the community, for the purpose of building up the community. Sometimes the call involves some sacrifices on our part, but God provides. The call speaks to our deepest longings, which are good longings. We are called to be ourselves. We often want a more clear sense of calling, but many times we can be at peace simply with being in relationship with a gracious God.
In the church, every week we read from the Bible and hear teaching from our Scriptures. The gift of the biblical story is that it provides the backdrop against which we understand our own calling. In many ways, our calling has already been laid out for us. Like Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Mary, and the disciples, we are a part of a people who have been called to be in relationship with God and to be a blessing to all peoples; a beloved community that is working out what it means to listen to Jesus when he calls out “Come, follow me.” The key isn’t trying to hear something new, but allowing ourselves to listen closely and become a part of something very ancient that is continually renewed throughout history. The freedom here is that it’s not so much a matter of what we do, but that whatever we do, we do it in a way that puts us in partnership with this God whose glory fills the whole earth.
Aside from this broad story of healing and salvation we are invited to join, it appears there are no set rules for how calling works in our lives. Given the diversity of our experiences of call, it would be wise of us to remain open to all the ways that God speaks: through the scriptures, through mystical visions, through the mouths of friends and family, through community. Through listening to our inner selves and discovering where our deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. Our first call is to listen. Listen. Listen. God is calling.