Your Calling Is Closer Than You Think

Have we made "finding your calling" harder than it needs to be?

"Your profession is not what brings home your weekly paycheck. Your profession is what you're put here on earth to do, with such passion and such intensity that it becomes spiritual in calling," as Vincent Van Gogh once said.

How do we find what we are meant to do? This is the infamous and expansive search—the quest for our unique calling. This is the question that keeps us up at night, that makes forty-somethings leave their lives in search for something better, that keeps twenty-somethings from staying at a job for more than a year at a time, that causes many dates to never turn to wedding bells.

We have an expectation that our calling is discoverable. It's the gold nugget buried within the river bank.

What on earth am I here for? What am I supposed to do with my life?

We bounce, slamming ourselves into walls. We sit and ponder. We write "How-to's"—20 Ways to Find Your Calling (Forbes), What You Are Meant To Be Doing—Find Your Calling (Oprah) and How To Find Your Calling (Institute for Faith, Works, and Economics).

I think of my grandfather and his German immigrant family working on a farm in North Dakota. It's 10 degrees outside, and he's nine years-old and bundled, scouring the field in search of boulders that might shred the family tractor. Twenty years later he's a grown man operating a grocery store, hand writing receipts and keeping track of the tabs of customers.

Who told us we have a right to a meaningful job? Who defines whether our job has meaning? And who says our job is our calling?

I'm leading a Bible study with several women, and we're sitting around talking about faith and the names of God, (all of us from very different backgrounds), and the study asks a zinger of a question—a question I've heard many times over—a question I pretty much reject altogether.

The author asks: 'What has God uniquely called you to do? Are you fulfilling God's calling on your life?"

We have approximately one centimeter high and four inches across to scribble our answer.

For a minute, I consider throwing my book across the room. Or quitting the study for the day. But eventually, in somewhat of a fluster, I write: "God has called me to everyday obedience. I am to walk step by step with Him, and if I do so, then I am fulfilling His unique calling on my life."

I feel rebellious.

The problem I see with that over-used, over-emphasized, over-preached word "calling" is that many of us have limited the definition of "calling" to a profession, a career or a role. In this view, calling is about what we do, not about who we are. Calling becomes about assignment—my calling to be a mother, or a psychologist, or a missionary, or a teacher; my "calling" to "go into ministry" or "go on the mission field." And then when our children walk out the door, when we lose our jobs, when our spouses suddenly die, when the funding doesn't come in, when we become desensitized with our workplace, or when we simply grow old and hunched over, what then? Where is our calling?

And who says our job is our calling?

In some ways the problem is related to our not knowing our giftings. But it's also more than that. It's about our expectation.

We have an expectation that our calling is discoverable. It's the gold nugget buried within the river bank. Search for it, be patient, don't give up, we'll find it (or stumble upon it) one day, eventually, and our lives will never be the same.

We wait around for the phone to ring. Literally, to "feel called." Or bump into it at random—the clouds align and a cross shines on the pavement before us—like the four-leaf clover underfoot, we sift, searching for that one thing we are "meant to do" that nobody else can make happen (unless, of course, God equips or enables or chooses someone else for the job).

For some of us, no matter how long we wait or how hard we search, the elusive 'calling' doesn't come. We look upon people living out their calling with envy -- what's wrong with us that we don't know what we're supposed to do with our lives? Why does He have something unique for them, but not unique for me?

We have an expectation our calling is going to feel deliciously good—like the buzzer beater at the end of the game to win it all. It's a perceived sweet spot based on happiness—the place where we feel sure we are doing exactly what we are created to do—and anything short of worthwhileness must mean it is not, actually, what we are meant to do or be.

Derek was a 17-year-old teenager wondering what to do with his life when his folks, concerned he had no direction, brought in an outside person to help him identify his interests and his talents. Upon conclusion of his evaluation, the instructor told my husband he should pursue professional golf and/or professional baseball as his calling. Those were his predominant loves at the time. Of course he was thrilled he could one day be Mike Trout (if only he works hard and believes, right?), but the idea that calling might actually require of us, might be detestably hard, is almost unheard of.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die."

We have an expectation that our calling will be profound. We want to become instant successes, start a business, invent something unique, write a book that impacts thousands, raise the next Margaret Thatcher, write music that reaches the Billboard Top 100, become the next Rick Warren, or make movies that matter. We're a culture consumed with numerical impact, with skyrocketing ROI, awards, and the recognition of man, so when our "calling" is to be in the shadows, it's a tough pill to swallow.

I think about some of the people new to our church, who are breaking through strongholds, walking in recovery, and making tiny strides toward a better life. Most of them are living so in the now, in the everyday questions: Will I have enough money at the end of the month? Will I stay clean? Will I get to see my child one day? They take each day, one step at a time, one step closer towards their best selves, the people God wants them to be.

This is how I've started looking at calling.

It takes an extraordinary amount of discipline and maturity to live in today, walking step by step doing whatever I'm supposed to do today. It takes discipline to say "I don't know." It takes faith to trust in one-day-at-a-time. It requires me to lay down my desperate, freakish desire for control and trust He is at work.

He knows the reason I was made. If I walk in step with Him every day I will walk into the reason. Maybe I'm here for something big and meaningful, or maybe I'm supposed to pick up rocks so the tractors don't break.

My "calling" is every day.

Originally published at


Darryl Willis


Darryl Willis commented…

Excellent article! Ephesians 1:3-18 says we were called to be children of God and to live for the praise of his glory--Ephesians 4:1 says "live in a way appropriate to your calling" and then in the rest of the book he explains how--boring things like loving each other, being gentle, speaking truth, etc. We see ourselves as rock stars with ourselves at center stage, but it seems the calling of Jesus is to empty ourselves of this need to be preeminent or in the position of greatness (Philippians 2 and dozens of other NT texts!). When Paul in Romans 8 says all things work together for good--the "good" referenced is that we become formed into the image of Christ. Thanks for a well written article!

Drew Horine


Drew Horine commented…

When you're a writer, blogger, dabbler in book marketing, and sushi addict, it sounds good to talk about plodding through humdrum everyday tasks as a "calling." When you spend everyday in a corporate environment that sucks creativity from your brain, but you stay there because the money is good and you've got a family to support, it gets a bit more complicated.

Pursuing your passions often comes with great risk of financial hardship or at least sacrificing your comfort zone. The disciples made this choice. One killed himself. Ten were martyred. One spent years in exile and was tortured regularly.

11 of those 12 wouldn't have traded their experience for all the gold in the world.

I think the real question is not "what is my calling?" The real question is "what am I willing to sacrifice to pursue God's plan?"

It's hard being 40.

Elise Amyx


Elise Amyx commented…

Karen, great piece! I wrote "How to Find Your Calling" for the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics that you mention in this article. I wrote a response to your article that was published on our blog this morning: I would love to hear your thoughts.

Christina Park


Christina Park commented…

The verse you mentioned at the end is actually Galatians 5:24 not 2:4!

Jeremiah Gibbs


Jeremiah Gibbs commented…

I agree with much of what is said here. Of course, we do still have to make decisions about jobs and geography and marriage and so on. Here is a new series I'm starting to help people make these decisions.

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