Something About a Calling
By Amber Tremblett
I spend a lot of time obsessing over my “calling.” My memories of faith formation all centre around the idea of “being called,” or figuring out God’s will for my life. I remember praying every single night that I would follow God’s will, that I wouldn’t stray from the path he had set for me. I spent so much time worrying about the future and whether I was making the right choices. I had this intense fear that a wrong choice would doom me to hell.
Obviously, somewhere along the way, the theology I was taught got it wrong, because this belief that I let guide so many years of my life does not represent the God of Grace that I know. But of course, I cannot blame my teachers entirely. It was more accurately a combination of poor theological teaching and my already developed—and very dominant—need for perfection. In other words, the utter terror I felt at the thought of failure. I believed God to be just like the other adults in my life: people I could disappoint if I got something wrong. People who would only love me if I didn’t make any mistakes. Which, in itself, was a lie. Because of course these adults would never treat me this way. But that is the false reality I created for myself. And it had complete control over all aspects of my life. To be loved was to be successful, to do everything right.
I know that this is not what God wants. I know that this is not how the world should work. But these beliefs have created a person—me—who has spent her whole life trying to please others at the expense of pleasing herself. And in getting to know other ministry leaders, especially women, I’ve come to realize that I am not alone in this fight. Our society has largely convinced us that our value derives from our success. And the church has believed this lie in a way that means we have conflated God’s love with the world’s love, forming generations of women who, when it comes to seeking the will of God, struggle to know the difference between God honouring self-sacrifice and culturally expected self-sabotage.
Thankfully, I have begun to undo these patterns of thought. This process of undoing has come with a lot of ups and downs, of some steps forward and some steps back, of revelations and even more mysteries. Overall, I am quite proud of how far I’ve come.
But that progress means that, when it comes to my call, there are now two realities at war with each other. Or maybe three. There is the reality that tells me I cannot be loved unless I get it right, unless I make the right choice. There is also the reality that tells me to put me first, to make choices for me because I’ve spent my life thus far living for others. And then there is God’s reality, which I expect might be somewhere in the middle.
And this is really the crux of the problem I am having. The two realities I can identify both feel wrong. But I have so far struggled to understand what God’s reality might be. How do I determine what to do when the war inside my head and my heart keeps drowning out the voice of God? And why does God allow himself to be drowned out by my messy human flaws? I could lay all my thoughts bare in this essay and it would still feel like I am running on a hamster wheel, not getting any closer to the truth.
There is so much noise when you’re trying to discern God’s voice. There is a culture that wants you to be a productive machine that will tell you you’re never enough. There is a church that is eager for new and young blood that will tell you you’re everything they need. There is your own voice that for some reason mashes those two contradictory messages together, which creates nothing but a jumbled mess when you try to approach God, to understand Him.
But I think, after a lot of reflection, at the very heart of it all, is one question: Should answering a call mean giving up who you are? Or rather, who you believe God has created you to be? Because throughout the years, throughout all the choices I’ve made, of listening to what people have said about me and my call, and making my decisions based on that, I feel I have somehow lost myself. I feel like the person I truly am is forced just out of reach by all the decisions I’ve made that have supposedly been about “answering the call.” My life is not my own.
I know, as a follower of Christ, that my life really isn’t my own. But my life doesn’t feel like it belongs to God, either. I feel like my life is being held hostage by every good opinion, every nod of approval, every expectation, that others have ever had of me. And I cannot escape. And because I cannot escape, I cannot let God in.
What I really want is for God to rescue me. I want him to pluck me out of the middle of all that chaos and tell me the truth. Because even as I write all of this, I don’t know if any of it is real. In my worst moments, I don’t trust my own feelings. In my worst moments, I can’t decipher what is God and what it not. And that never-ending cycle of thoughts is exhausting.
I’ve spent so much time thinking about these things that I fear I’ve missed—and maybe we’ve all missed—perhaps the most basic call, the call placed on all our lives as believers, as children of God. And that is to love and to love deeply. To love my family, my friends, my congregation, everyone who comes in and out of my life. To love God. To love Jesus and see him in every particle of this world. To live, not in relentless anxiety over whether I am engaged in the right ministry, in the right place, with the right people, but to live in love with all the people and things I encounter because of the ministry I happen to be doing, the place I happen to be in, the people I happen to know. A wise woman once suggested to me that maybe God cares less about the specific thing you are doing and more about the orientation of your heart as you are doing it. I think she was on the right track.
Of course, knowing this, believing it, and living it are three different things. And unfortunately, I’ve still got some of those hurdles to climb. I don’t love all the parts of my job. And I can’t picture myself doing what I am currently doing forever. I don’t think this ministry embodies the whole of “my calling,” whatever that might mean. I do believe that there is some other job, some other form of ministry that God has prepared for me. But, along with all of that is the holy truth that there are still people to love at this stage of the journey. I can still live into God’s call because His call never changes. And perhaps, when I am feeling a bit desperate about the trajectory of my life and whether I am doing the “right thing,” I should remember that. I should remember that no matter what my life happens to look like, there is always a call to answer. There is always a direction to take. And that is the call to love, which is the direction that moves us toward the Kingdom of God.