This isn’t going to be rocket science, folks, but I’ve been chewing on this lately so let me throw a couple thoughts at you.
Within the overused phrase “it takes a village” nestles a vital truth: We aren’t on this planet to live life alone, or for ourselves individually. Our existence, and our understanding of where we fit in this universe along with it, is caged within the network of relationships that form our context.
So I was thinking about calling the other day on my decently long commute to/from work. Why am I on this planet? What’s my mission in life? What are the goals I want to accomplish in the next decade?
And that’s when it hit me — my grasp of my personal calling isn’t the only variable in the equation. My calling exists within the network of relationships that form my life.
Let’s trace that idea a little further.
When I was a young adult, entering college, I had a pretty firm idea of what I wanted to do with my life. That understanding of my calling turned out to be incorrect, but it led me into a useful degree program and I wasn’t too far off, all things considered. But the determining factors for my calling arose from my understanding of myself.
(I should note that I was coming out of a branch of Christianity where Knowing God’s Will For My Life™ was an essential element of discerning calling. Since God never seems to resort to sky-writing to point out His will to people, I was left to relying on the general (and clear) statements in the Bible of what God wants people to do (don’t murder, love your neighbor, don’t sleep around) and my very subjective understanding of what God wanted me to do with my life (be a missionary). It kind of messed up my directional compass for a while, but Grace is big and growing up helped straighten me out a lot.)
As an early 20-something, my life was truly all about ME. Setting aside the fact that I felt like I was following what God Himself had told me to do [and maybe He had; I can only tell you the experiences I had, I can’t really tell you whether they’re legitimate] I was thinking primarily about myself. I was busy mapping the way for my life, my calling.
Of course, college years are full of the tense thrill of wondering who you’re going to fall in love with and marry. Right? 🙂 “Is it that hott guy who sits next to me in speech class? Oh, he has a girlfriend. Darn. Is it the nice guy who picked up my umbrella out of the gutter? Well, he’s not showing any interest…..” I met Coart when I was 20 or so. (He was the interesting guy in my Greek class.) We were dating by 21, engaged at 22, and married at 23.
My grasp on my calling shifted—and now it had to include this other human being with a sense of calling and particular package of gifts. I wasn’t only building a road map for myself any more. The map had to be a joint effort, and only one person can be in the driver’s seat at a time.
Even within the Bastion of Fundamentalism, we were pretty progressive when it came to gender roles. I knew how the submission thing was supposed to work in marriage. But Coart wasn’t interested in a woman who lost her identity in cooking dinner and making babies. And I wasn’t the kind of woman who wanted a Mrs. degree in place of an actual education.*
But my calling has always been contingent on his. That’s a reality of married life—whether the couple is traditional or progressive. One of your “callings” will likely take precedence over the other’s. That might even shift back and forth throughout your years together. But the couples who decide to live in separate cities so they can each pursue their callings as if they were each single? I struggle to see how that’s an effective marriage. (Perhaps it’s a great friendship with “legal” benefits.)
The only way I can fully understand my calling is if I nest it within the larger circles of the relationships that form my life. I’m going to pick up that thread tomorrow….
*Bonus story: it was my senior year of college as Coart was planning his graduate admission for a PhD program in Old Testament and finding an assistantship to pay for it, that I found myself starting at the graduate catalog in frustration. The sensible path, the one that led most directly to my operative “calling,” was to take an MAT in teaching, probably in one of the secondary ed fields since I’ve never really been that great with little kids.
But it didn’t feel right. I didn’t have the pre-req’s for any of the MAT degrees; I was kind of scared of the student teaching semester in the big, bad, terrifying public education system; and I wasn’t even sure that teaching was my calling, though I figured it would play a large role in whatever we ended up doing. (At that point, we figured Coart would be teaching in a seminary overseas once he finished his degree, and I’d end up as the missionary wife who might get to teach a class now and then on top of all the domestic and familial and ministry duties of that life.)
What I really wanted to do was study theology. I wanted to do “what the men get to do”: spend time concentrating on difficult and important questions. That MA in Bible (the academic foundational degree for the PhD programs) seemed to just glow on the page. Yet that seemed foolish. All but one of the students in the seminary theology programs were men, because the only people who needed that kind of training were men. The few women who braved seminary relegated themselves to the Counseling degree, or maybe Church History. (No danger of a female Church History major entering the pastorate, right?)
Coart’s solution was simple: “If you want the MA in Bible, why don’t you study that?”
“But”—I protested—”what will I do with it?!”
He looked at me and laughed. “Follow the desire of your heart.”
So I enrolled.
And much of the intellectual course of my life was set in the two years I plowed through hermeneutics, linguistics, theology, argumentation, rhetoric, research.