calling and context... an important distinction
Reading through the comments about the quarter life crisis has had me thinking about my own trajectory over the past 30 years. Though there are many issues (relationships, money, ambivalence about commitment), it seems that the issue of finding one's 'destiny' remains (as it was when I was 25) one of the most important issues. Since this issue of decision making, and wanting to 'get it right' are important factors in this post college, post masters, post-post graduate period of life, I offer these observations, based on looking back:
1. Finding one's calling is the first thing. "Calling" might be a bad word because it can be interpreted as finding the particulars of life, such as where, in particular I'll live, and what, in particular I'll do. The prior question, though, really ought to be, "what energizes me?" because, as Frederick Beuchner said (approximately): "our calling is to be found in that place where the world's need and our deep gladness intersect." Each of us needs to discover the activities that energize us and those that drain us, the activities at which we excel, and those the one's at which we're terrible.
2. The calling is more general than you think. My own journey has included seemingly disparate pursuits; architecture, music composition, Bible teaching, beginning a wilderness ministry, pastoring an urban church, writing a book. Though, at first, these things seem utterly unrelated, looking back, I can clearly see a theme: I enjoy creating. Once something's been created, I'm not so good at maintaining it, but the creation of the new thing ( a new building, a new public space, a new string quartet, a new sermon) is deeply energizing to me. It slowly dawned on me, over the years, that the 'what' that was being created was less important to me, than the act of creating.
For others it's serving, or leading, or facilitating, or reconciling, or relating, or discovering that become the operative words. Finding that operative word, that thing which motivates and energizes, is terribly important. I'm not sure how it's found, other than to say that I was never told by my parents that I could "do anything". Instead I was taught, directly and indirectly, to follow a path that energized me, without giving much consideration to the possibilities of livelihood. Having received permission to pursue the energizing stuff, I gravitated naturally towards creating.
3. Finding contexts is more art than science. In my case, the movement from architecture to music, music to Bible teaching, came about as a result of what I can only describe as encounters with God. I wouldn't have chosen to be a Bible teacher or a pastor, wouldn't have known these things bring me joy, any more than I knew that I loved mushrooms until I tried them on a pizza once. Prior to that pizza, I'd presumed them to nothing more than disgustingly soft fungi. Who knew they'd be good? Who knew Bible study and teaching would be a joy? Someone asked me to teach a class once. After saying no a few times, I said yes. It's made all the difference. I'd better not presume that I know what context I'll like until I try it.
Along these lines, I'll note that we need to be open to contexts outside of our comfort zone, as Paul was when God gave him a Gentile context for ministry rather than a Jewish one. Am I open?
On the other hand, it's helpful to recognize that, like calling, some contexts can bring us deep gladness, and we should embrace that as a gift. I love the Pacific Northwest; the rain, the trees, the glaciers, the salmon, the mediocre sports teams, the great symphony, the coffee obsession, the casual lifestyle. It's as if I'm made for this place on the earth. Almost every morning, when I wake up, I thank God that I'm able to live in this place and do this thing that bring me joy.
In general, I wonder if all of us 't worry too much about context and not enough about calling? I wonder if we think that the key to fulfillment is finding the right context (ie: the right job in the right place) rather than seeking to understand our calling and, whatever the context, jumping into the deep end, absorbing ourselves in learning to do better whatever it is that we're created to do.
I hesitate to offer any of this because my own story is only my own story, and is certainly fraught with not only unique circumstances, but failures and shortcomings. Still, I hope that the principles related to context and calling are helpful to those in the quarter life crisis. I find them to be profoundly helpful right now, in midlife, as I think about my own future: context comes from calling.