Dear Mentor: Have I missed my calling?

Dear Mentor,

I believe God has given me intellectual gifts, but I have had a hard time settling into the right place to engage them. I have tried a couple of directions already and decided they were not right, but now am fearful that I am failing to use the gifts I’ve been given and that I’ll never complete a full academic program or experience career satisfaction. How did you choose the field you are in and was it very clear for you? Do you have any encouragement or advice for me?

From Kelly Aukema

 Many books have been written about finding God’s calling or vocation for our lives. One concern that I have about much of this writing is that it often leaves us with the impression that we must find our one calling in life. I think there are many ways in which all of us could be using our gifts to advance God’s kingdom, and I am certain that there are different seasons in life to use different gifts. This quote from Frederick Buechner (Wishful Thinking — A Theological ABC) has served as a guide and a constant challenge for me, “The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done . . . The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

From Dorothy Boorse

 I did not always know what I would be doing. I thought I would go into medicine and be a missionary. Now I am a professor, on a school board, in a variety of leadership roles at my institution, and I teach, write, mentor students, and do research (though the research is not a large component of my activity).

Through twists and turns I ended up here as an aquatic ecologist. Even now, I am constantly tweaking direction. I have often followed opportunities that have arisen. When I choose between options, the needs of my family and a sense of what is the best use of my time are often factors that decide which direction I go.

I believe my call is to teach and write and mentor others. I also have some skills in planning. This call is broader than a particular job and consequently there are a number of careers that would allow me to do it. I am also called to be a loving and helpful spouse and mother, now that I have those roles.

What is also interesting is to see calls you know you do not have and see others who do. I no longer feel badly that I will not be a youth leader, I will never lead a choir, that I have minimal gifts of hospitality especially in the areas of housekeeping and cooking, and that I am a relatively poor room-parent at school. Identifying these areas is not “getting down on myself” as I do not feel badly at all to find that there are things I am not good at and have relatively little interest in. Thankfully, I did not live in a place or time when I had to be a baker or run a music ministry.

I think that satisfaction is something you choose. I have had a very wide range of jobs that I have enjoyed. If I like the people I am working with, believe in the mission of the organization, and have intellectual challenge, I’m pretty good. Obviously, if you think you have to find exactly the right direction to be fulfilled, your decision-making will be different. I believe I could have been fulfilled at a less interesting job with very interesting volunteer opportunities.

Your personality, gifts, abilities, and sense of calling are part of direction-forming. Opportunities that present themselves and the obligations you already have are also components. I personally do not believe there is only one direction you could go, and that having a personality that could enjoy a wide range of life experiences is a huge plus.

From Sylvia Chen

 I agree with Dorothy Boorse and Kelly Aukema that God’s will (calling) is much broader and more gracious than we imagine, and satisfaction is a choice. I’d like to add that the writer should not be ruled by fear but rather by God’s love and his power. God has given us Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit to ensure our success — how can we fail with such wisdom and strength backing us? The kicker is, however, that God’s success may not fit very well into the world’s definition of success. 

From Hillary Lum

 For myself, as a medical resident, after eight years of medical and graduate school, and another four years of post-graduate training ahead of me, my goal is to live well in a balance between my current daily experiences and where I hope to be in the future. If I ever get to a point where “waiting for or needing things to get better” dominates my existence, I will do something else because, with Dorothy and Kelly, I agree that there are many places where we can contribute and find satisfaction. With that said, academic training programs and the positions they lead to involve hard-work, dedication, and persistence. I have sought out and been fortunate to have friends who have encouraged and supported me along the way, including helping me to see times when things were out of balance.

As a final suggestion, I think it’s important to be creative and flexible in your choices and decisions. I recently read Halee Gray Scott’s article, The Stair-Runner, at The Well about her experiences seeking her calling. I particularly appreciated her husband’s words after she had been accepted to a PhD program in Systematic Theology, her presumed goal, “Yes [Halee], you love theology, but you love even more to see theology in action in the lives of people who need it most. A degree in systematic theology would only distance you from those people and distance you from your true calling. You’re a stair-runner.” Those close to us can sometimes help us see most clearly.

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