Remember Your Calling

June 19, 2012

When I was in seminary- I don’t remember which class- but I do remember the professor talking deeply about his experience of “call.” The language of call is thrown around quite loosely in many faith traditions, including my own. But even as it is used so much, it means something important.

But what? I have pondered this many years now. The mystical, almost other-worldly experience of call. I’ve written on my own “call experience” and presented it a number of times. I’ve heard people’s own wonderings on their sense of call. And I’ve even found my sense of call shift and change a time or two as well.

One of the first conversations I have with a pastor I am coaching is about their experience of call. How did he come to be in the role they are? Why is she doing what she is doing? What does it mean to them to be called into ministry? Very often, when having those conversations (whether as a coach or not), I watch the pastor’s eyes glisten a bit and look off as though reliving a memory. I hear a softening and a quickening in her voice. I witness a relaxing smile on his face. There’s just something about sharing that mystical, divine story that makes someone sense something deeper.

But sometimes, just occasionally, I witness other things. A troubled look. Exhausted body language. A frantic searching for understanding. Tears. And eventually a closing off to continuing the story. These pastors or leaders are typically in crisis- whether internal or external, whether known to others or not. They are at a crossroads in their work, their future, and maybe even their personal life. They sit beside the Psalmist as he wails to a God who seems distant and cold. They wonder if they are cut out for ministry. They wonder if they are disqualified from faith. They wonder if they have enough faith at all.

I love the excitement and joy I find listening to the first pastor. But my heart becomes most affected by the latter. Because I know how it is to sit in that place, too. I feel like I’m searching frantically for something that was one of the most important things to me but seems to have been lost somewhere along the way, while also wondering if I truly even want it back at all. To know that something powerful happened with God reached down through a “thin place” in our relationship and anointed me for ministry, but to also sometimes wonder if I’d deluded myself.

Pastors who are questioning their call are there for multiple reasons. Sometimes it’s something that’s happened in their life that reduced them to raw edges of grief. Other times it’s a ministry that didn’t work. Still other times, it’s just aging and realizing that the culture around them has moved on and they don’t know how to play the game anymore. But the fear is real in those moments when we are questioning our “call.”

This professor who talked so meaningfully kept saying one phrase: Remember your call. 

But what happens when you can’t really remember? Oh, you can recite the event, but in your heart, what happens when you can’t remember that sense of the divine’s hands upon you? In the times I have been there, sometimes ready to chuck my “call” and ordination vows into the trash, sometimes desperately trying to hold them even though it feels like trying to hold water, I’ve heard this professor’s words: Remember your call. And immediately felt badly that I couldn’t.

During one of these episodes for me, I reached out to a friend and mentor… the rare kind of friend which whom I feel I can share my deep, dark questions and not feel stupid or heretical or judged. My concern to him involved significant fear I felt thinking about Saul from the Old Testament- how God had “removed his spirit” from Saul.

“What if that’s me?” I asked. “He did it to Saul.”

My wise friend’s response? “There are so many more in scripture who didn’t experience that.”

At first I was irritated, but that response sat on me for a few weeks, and I think during that time, the response was hammering into my battered heart until I would accept it. I couldn’t tell you that at that moment I remembered my “call.” But I can tell you that at that moment, I felt called again. In that mystical, “thin place” sort of way.

I think after years of remembering my professors words, I think I know what he was trying to communicate to a bunch of seminary students who had little clue what they were getting themselves into. Not only is it important to remember your call… but when you can’t, for whatever reason, it’s important to know somewhere deep inside, that your call remembers you. And more importantly, the Caller remembers you.

I’ve come to see those difficult times as opportunities. I don’t like them. I hope I never have them again, but I know I will. It could be that God is doing something new in your call. It could be that God is allowing you time to heal and grow so your call is “on sabbatical.” It could be that you just need some “thin place” time. But rarely, if ever, does it mean that God is done with your call.

 

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