On Calling

So… I kinda have writer’s block. Or blogger’s reluctance. Or… my life is only half baked anyway, so how am I supposed to write about SPIRITUAL things when I can’t even figure out what I’m having for dinner?

I set out, about three weeks ago, to write about calling. In this series on the Holy Spirit, I wanted to wrap the whole thing up by talking about what it means to be called, how to figure it out… not some kind of comprehensive guide, but my usual here’s-my-story-learn-what-you-want-from-it schtick. But it’s hard to describe a process you’re in the middle of, and in some ways, at the bottom of.

I didn’t really start taking the word “calling” seriously until about a year and a half ago. Me, Jared, and Seretha (soon to become Roommate A) were camping in a disappointingly cold North Carolina during “reading week” (code for Spring Break but we assign you extra work). It had been so long since I’d thought about a calling being on my life… as far as I was concerned, from the day Jared slipped this gold band on my finger, my calling to be subservient to whatever God called him to do, and I didn’t have to worry about it.

It took until two springs ago for me to really, truly figure out what a bad idea this was. I wasn’t being a good “helpmeet,” or whatever; I was abdicating on my life. I was letting my passions and emotional needs dictate where to take me next, which was important to learn how to do, but that doesn’t add up to meaningful or fulfilling. After nearly three years of marriage, I was finally realizing that it was no better for Jared than for me for me to check out that way. Like in marriage, going nowhere means going backwards.

So I started thinking it through, on long walks through Appalachia. What are the elements of my life where I not only have a heart’s desire, but that I can tell is encouraged by the Spirit. The answers I came up with were three: Family, Making, and Writing. Those are each much broader concepts that I’ve chosen a single word to label, and they’re thoroughly interconnected.

At first I fretted. I’d lost two pregnancies; how could I know that we could have a family? We may never have enough money to adopt. Seretha shut me up, with a concept that has calmed me down considerably on the subject of calling. Stop asking how; just whatWhat is God calling you to? What’s the vision he’s giving you for the future? If God’s calling you to it, he’ll work out the how in his own good time. We’ve been living on faith financially for long enough that I could compute that.

That distinction – the ability to recognize and stop when I’m asking how questions and just ask what questions – helped me let go of tightly-hamfisted control of my future, and let me dream big. It doesn’t matter how God gives us children, or even whether they’re our own; God will provide us with a family. It doesn’t matter what I make or how, or if my interests and abilities change over time; creating things is an integral part of what my life will be. It doesn’t matter that I have no professional leads on writing or teaching; if I do it when I can I’ll grow my skills, and if I pay attention, the right time will come to track down leads.

It was another year later, on another southern Spring Break (this time in Florida) that another piece of calling began to congeal. I have started to run across a priestly calling in a very roundabout sort of way.

I never, EVER wanted to be a pastor; that was on the list of never jobs, right alongside “nun” and “dentist.” But if you pinned me down, my main reason for never considering it was this: most pastors I’d been close to had really crappy boundaries and overbearing feely personalities. Both crappy boundaries and overbearing feely people are things I’ve been running from for a goodly long time, and certainly not things I wanted to take on in a million years. But I’ve met a wider variety of pastors since then. What’s more, miscarriage #3 stripped me down to my base ingredients, and completely rewired how I think about people, relationships, obligations, hopes, and the future. Boundaries are much easier to keep in place when no one can threaten you with more than you’ve already lost.

Before spring break, I realized that all my reasons for NOT being a priest had been removed. And I was growing some kind of niggling interest in pastoral care, not to mention a convicted wish to see more female priests. But that doesn’t constitute a calling TO be a priest; Hebrews 5:4 makes that clear enough. And I’m no dunce; I know that priesthood is a lifestyle you should probably avoid if you can. So I wasn’t really saying “no,” as much as I didn’t think I was being asked.

Then I went to Florida. St. Peter’s Anglican church in Tallahassee was having a conference on the theology of priesthood, free for seminarians. It worked with Spring Break, it was an excuse to get somewhere actually warm this year, and Jared wanted to go to the conference. I tagged along.

I’m not sure what it was. Seeing a team of priests with a common vision and excellence in execution? The fact that I was the only female seminarian there, and it burned my heart not to see my gender in the future of my church’s leadership? Meeting more priests that had personalities more like mine, and not uniformly ENFJs, that were completely suited to their unique priestly calling? Some confluence of things made me realize I had to start taking the possibility seriously. That was the beginning of Lent; I made myself at least wait ’till Easter to make a decision.

I still haven’t made a decision. This is hard for the sort of person who thinks that taking two days to decide anything is torturously long. But like any other kind of calling, this is something I have to marinate in. I’d already marinated in all those other ideas for ages; this one is going to take more time. I’ll tell you what though. I’ve switched degrees to an MDiv (masters of Divinity; what you get if you’re going for ordination), and we left our church that doesn’t support women’s ordination for a church plant pastored by a husband and wife team of priests.

I guess the most basic part of working out calling was to become an active participant in my own life. I didn’t want to be responsible for things that had consequences. I wanted to “just live my life,” have fun, do grown-up projects like a masters’ degree and maybe some babies, grow a garden and design knitwear on the side. But I looked into that future and saw the sort of person who ends up living vicariously through their children because they never tuned into their own lives. The sort of person who never deals with boundary problems, and so either shuts themselves off from everyone, or continues in a pattern of short, failed relationships. I’m still pretty passive in a lot of ways, and I have plenty of emotional issues to work out. But there’s nothing like the possibility of ordination (or parenthood) to make me face those head-on. If I’m going to be responsible for any kind of well-being of any other humans, I can’t do it half-baked or “well enough.” That’ll happen anyway from ordinary imperfection, but going into it willfully ignoring real problems is … well, the technical definition of “stupid” applies.

So that’s where I’m at. Have you thought about calling in a while? Taken a retreat to really mediate and pray on it for a weekend, or set aside a season to rethink things? Not the how, but the big picture – the what, the in ten-to-twenty-years-we could…? If you knew once, has it evolved as you’ve matured? Have you talked to a wise pastor or spiritual director about it? Do you have accountability for that vision, or are you part of a larger vision, in your family, your community, your church?

4 thoughts on “On Calling

  1. connie says:

    Rebecca,

    I spent this morning at a church meeting on bylaws, I’, doing my 2nd tour on vestry at a small, rual Episcopal church after many years of living in and attending various sizes and shapes of episciopal churches. Right now, our rectoe is away on asabbatical and our sabbatical rector is a very nice woman who is doing an excellent job. If you feel called to the priesthood, go for it, not because we need more women priests, although I personally think that women frequently do a better job, but because if this is what will really fulfillyour life, nothing wlse will replace it. On the other hand, if you don’t feel compelled and inspired to do this, find another vocation! Backing into the priesthood is a path to unhappiness. Best wishes on your pregnancy.

    Connie

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  2. admin says:

    Thanks for the well wishes, Connie. 🙂 I agree we need more women priests… sort of an affirmative action for the ministry, lol.

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  3. That’s good to hear. Nice reflections on calling. I particularly appreciated the reminder/confirmation that God does provide for us to work out our vocation in the real world. It took me a loooonnnnggg time to figure that one out, and I still struggle with that. I suppose we all struggle with that in the “downtime” between “prophecy” and “fulfillment” so to speak. Will God keep his Word? Did I hear properly? Will God provide? But he keeps reminding me that he does provide by, gee, providing! It’s nice how that happens. 🙂

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  4. Rebecca says:

    Yeah… it helps when you’re dependent enough on him in practical, ordinary life (and don’t have a perfect system of western earthly financial “security” to back you up) that when things don’t seem perfect *spiritually*, his faithfulness is just an apparent inescapable truth of your existence.

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