By Nicole Howe

It Is Well With My Soul: Pursuing vocation when life is full

Full vs. Fulfilled?

In this pro-hustle culture, it helps to remember that there is no direct link between a full calendar and a fulfilling life. However, the reverse is also true — an empty calendar does not necessarily lead to fulfillment. It took many varying seasons of life for me to realize that, while busyness and burn-out often go hand in hand, it is also possible for fulfillment to co-exist alongside numerous spinning plates. Conversely, while I’ve experienced deep peace and satisfaction in some quieter seasons, others left me with a profound restlessness of spirit. What it all adds up to is this: there is no formula. Of course, it is crucial to leave margin and avoid overextending ourselves, but this past season revealed to me that having a full calendar does not necessarily mean I’ve taken on too much.

When it comes to making vocational decisions, it is so easy to oversimplify or take a surface approach rather than tend to the deep places of our hearts and listen for the voice of God in what he’s asking of us for this specific season. The reality, I discovered, is that when my life was lacking creative outlets, energizing projects, or challenging endeavors, I actually became increasingly irritable and agitated. But, when I said yes to actively pursuing my vocation (even while keeping up with other responsibilities), I experienced a deep sense of peace. This discovery helped me recognize how important it is for us to tend to our souls, not just our calendars. Rather than automatically saying yes or no to everything, we are invited to lean in, listen closely, and let God surprise us.

Vocation And

The invitation to pursue a vocation, whether it’s heading back to school, saying yes to a career or ministry opportunity, or starting a new project, often comes at times that feel terribly inconvenient. No matter which stage of life we are in, plates are almost always spinning. Because of a tendency to overload myself, especially in a culture that seems to reward busyness, productivity, and overextension, I’ve spent years stumbling through the art of setting boundaries and learning how to say no. I am married, raising four children, an active member of my church — which includes leading a small group, serving on the worship team, and heading up women’s Bible studies. And, of course, there are always the additional spinning plates to contend with like extended family, community activity, health issues, and whatever else squeezes its way into my daily rhythms. So, when the invitation to homeschool came, my first intuition was to pray about what I needed to remove from my schedule, and I assumed I’d likely need to take a break from pursuing my coursework. But every time I held up homeschooling and graduate school, I only heard an unrestrained “yes.” To both. 

So, here I am, having entered my third year of homeschooling and successfully graduated with my MAA.

Life as Art

Whenever the topic of vocation and calling is addressed, Ephesians 2:10 is often referenced, in which we are told that “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” This verse is often summoned to remind us that our callings and vocations have been pre-ordained, hand-crafted by God in advance. This is a beautiful reminder that God is sovereign over our callings. However, I think we often miss another profound and stunning truth tucked away in this Scripture: we are God’s handiwork. The original Greek word used here is poiema, and it’s where we get our English word for poem. We are created beings, yes. But not just any old created thing — a work of art, God’s masterpiece, a poem delicately and intricately constructed.

When I began to embrace my life this way, to see it as a work of art created by the Master Artist, then I began to expect and recognize  qualities that exist in all good works of art. Qualities like rhythm, order, harmony, balance, intentionality, beauty, and coherence. Do we truly believe that God is taking the messy pieces of our lives, these seemingly disconnected threads of color, and weaving them into something that makes sense, that displays wholeness, integration and harmony?

In An Experiment in Criticism, C.S. Lewis tells us that “the first demand any work of art makes upon us is surrender. Look. Listen. Receive. Get yourself out of the way.” When I turned over the artist’s brush to God and faithfully leaned into the idea that he was making a masterpiece out my life, I began to listen, to surrender, to pay attention to my life in ways I never had before. And in that posture, I discovered that many of these fragmented pieces, these spinning plates of homeschooling and graduate school and caregiving and ministry life, are all parts of a greater whole, an integrated picture that God was making — a masterpiece where every element plays off the other. And I’m now convinced: it isn’t busyness alone that gets to us as much as it is the fracturing and chaos that comes when we fail to slow down and listen to our lives, when we throw paint colors on the canvas that don’t belong there, when we neglect to recognize the bigger picture. Pay close attention. Sometimes a full life simply means he’s making the picture more colorful.

Pursuing vocation is not for the faint of heart. It’s hard work. It’s costly. It’s demanding. But, our first job is to be a disciple of Christ, to sit at his feet, to listen to his voice as we decide whether to step right or left. We are never asked to do it all, just all that God asks of us. And he is forever faithful to guide us into a life that confidently sings “All is well.”

About the Author

Nicole Howe is a writer, speaker, wife, and homeschooling mama to four kiddos. She serves as editor and regular contributor for the quarterly publication An Unexpected Journal and is a regular contributor for the online magazine Cultivating. She holds a Masters Degree in Cultural Apologetics from Houston Baptist University where she discovered the power of the imagination to restore awe and wonder to her floundering faith. When she's not devouring books, Nicole loves singing, pretending to be a chef, and performing Improv at her local theater.

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