What do you want to be when you grow up? What is your calling? What does calling mean to you, and what are you going to do about it?
Many people face these questions, and they are certainly not limited to the period of adolescence. My own educational and professional experiences have coalesced in a direction that began years ago with a call to ordained ministry. This call hasn't been a straightforward or predictable path. Neither, I suspect, is that the case with many people.
WHAT IS CALLING?
Countless books and lectures are available on discovering and living into one's calling. Too often this term is associated with a calling into ordained ministry, such as the one I have discovered and am still living into. However, calling does not have to be limited to clergy or even church ministry staff; instead, it extends to all people in whatever way they discern God's nudge in their hearts and lives.
Calling is indeed a process, which I wasn't comfortable owning at first. That is, until I read Kathleen Cahalan's perspective of calling "as a verb" in The Stories We Live: Finding God's Calling All Around Us. One's calling is constantly in action, giving each of us permission to own two seemingly conflicting perspectives of clarity of call and uncertainty of what will unfold as we live into that call. Cahalan asks readers to consider "three experiences or images for the ways God calls us: the plan, the pilgrimage, and the surprising 'aha' moment."
In other words,
- what is your plan, or set of goals in your own calling?
- What journey will you take?
- What surprising turns will you discover along the way?
For me, teaching, writing, and ministry have sharply emerged. I am called to continue to find ways to serve in these three fields as they intersect with each other. This "aha" moment emerged in my seminary training and beyond, with long periods of discernment through prayer, study, reflection and conversations with a variety of church leaders, friends, and mentors.
Who in your life can you reach out to for discovering your and living into your call? In turn, how might you be that person for someone else?
I cringe when people write or speak too much about the notion of "a plan," or even "THE plan." But I find Cahalan's presentation of plan to be comforting and convincing: "Perhaps a more helpful way is to say that God does not create you with a vocation (one single plan that God has made), but with the capacity for vocations (the ability to engage in dialogue with God and others to create a plan for your life). Vocation becomes, then, a creative act, something we create with God and others, unique to each of our lives." This notion of co-creating reminds me of my own theological studies and evolution in thinking and discerning as I live into my ever-revealing call. As our call unfolds, we are asked to take action, as "the way is made by walking," which can reveal multiple vocations and expressions.
My path became more twisting than I originally anticipated. After I was laid off from my job as a college instructor during the economic recession in 2008-2009, I was derailed, stymied, depressed, and confused. I spent time scrambling for employment, a sense of identity, and discernment for the future. I dug holes and planted trees and plants in the house purchased months before the layoff notice. I thought my life had taken a certain direction all the way back in my mid-twenties, but the road became rocky after the layoff and resulting loss of direction, identity, finances and relationships.
The way opened as I responded to a call I had been identifying but ignoring for years: ordained ministry. The "pluralistic" callings Cahalan presents has helped affirm me, as the notion of storytelling helps me consider my role as both storytelling and advocate for those to tell their stories, and how we all can "be stewards of God's stories as well." That claim helps me find a possible intersection of my three fields of experience and passion for teaching, writing, and ministry as I pursue the ordained deacon track in The United Methodist Church.
Having a calling – even God's calling – does not mean entering into vocational or professional ministry, whether it be as a clergyperson or church staff. Instead, having a calling from God extends to each of us in numerous ways. The call gives us the option to respond and keep moving forward. As J.R.R. Tolkien wrote in The Fellowship of the Ring, "Not all those who wander are lost." I have undergone a number of healthy wanderings – mentally, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually – in the past several years. Through this time of convalescence, discernment, and walking the path, I have emerged with a sharper sense of being called to ministry.
May you also find the way by walking your path as your own calling continues to unfold.
Scott Klepach, Jr. is a hospital chaplain and licensed local pastor in the Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Methodist Church, where he also serves as conference communications convener. He holds a Master of Arts (English) and a Master of Divinity degree and has taught English at several institutions of higher learning. He loves running, writing, studying, and spending time with his two children, Elise and Liam, and his partner in marriage, Mack.
 Kathleen A. Cahalan, The Stories We Live: Finding God's Calling All Around Us, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Company, 2017), xi.
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