Beginning with a summary: A person calling shifts with the seasons of a person’s life and morphs according a person’s awareness—of the season, of their own gifts, and of others’ needs. It can be spiritual. It can be relational. It seems to be connected to submitting oneself to a broader picture of something akin to God or goodness itself. Sometimes a calling becomes apparent in the moment it is being fulfilled, sometimes only as the past pattern amidst the changes emerges; sometimes retrospection brings nothing but more questions. The completion of a calling is not its goal.
Reading a myriad of academic studies conducted on “calling” taught me nothing compared to the wisdom I found in the responses sent to me. I hope you find the same peace and encouragement from these responses.
1. Do you have a calling? Has it ever changed?
“I currently have no calling that I’m aware of. If calling means a general sense of dissatisfaction with life or the way things are, then sure, I’m being called . . .but the question after all this remains, what is my calling?”
“[My calling] has remained constant at its core for about decade, but I have seen it grow in depth and perspective.”
“Yes. I believe I have a calling: to humbly serve in the background. To make others look better. To quietly facilitate. . . As a pianist, I prefer to be the accompanist and do my best to make the soloist look good. In my job, I’m a copywriter for a publishing company. My name is never attached to my writing; my goal is to make our authors look good. And I like that. [My calling] hasn’t changed so much as that I just never quite figured out what it was until I was in the middle of doing it.”
“Looking back years later, Whether or not I really had been called, or just subconsciously saw the convent as an acceptable way to get away from a chaotic home, is murky. . . . Callings are not in the realm of rationality; they are in the realm of mystery and faith.”
2. Should everyone have a “calling”? Should a “calling” lead to financial gain?
“My mom was a nurse. That was a calling. Teaching and married life in the fifties in at least the Catholic United States were also callings. They were callings because they demanded commitment, dedication, sacrifice, and were directed to the greater good of society. Women (always women) in these roles were expected to routinely put others' wants and needs above their own. They were expected to work long hours, be ready to serve at a moment's notice, to be unselfish, undemanding (except on behalf of others), and agonizingly cheerful about it. If they could manage all this with little or no reimbursement except the occasional thank you from a grateful patient/student/child, so much the better. . . . . (And that answers the question about a calling and financial gain. While some callings can lead to financial gain, that's not the motivating force. A called person will follow the call regardless).”
“Full time, great benefits, short commute, etc. etc, but is it my calling? I certainly hope not. . . . If I can make money and support other people that are willing to reach out to others, while attempting to exert a very small sphere of influence on the people around me, couldn’t that be a calling?”
“Yes. I don't think it needs to be blown out of proportion. . . . It doesn't matter to me whether someone's or my calling leads to financial gain. My world view places very little value on financial prominence.”
“[N]o, in the end, I don’t think calling and financial gain are necessarily intertwined. I think God generally calls us to things that align with our gifts and passions, so it often does work out to tie in with a career.”
3. Is personal control an important aspect to your “calling”?
4. What is the role of submission to your personal calling in life?
“[A]s far as personal control regarding my own calling is concerned, no, it’s not that important. I’ve made terrible decisions for most of my life, so if I can give control to someone [who is] perfect and omniscient, that works for me.”
“I don't think ‘called’ persons can help themselves. Feeling called, being called, is intrinsic. They would not be themselves without that quality. . . . [T]hat answers the question about submission. There are plenty of stories of people who refuse a call, who try to avoid a call, who resent a call, but who, eventually, sometimes churlishly or grudgingly, acknowledge the call. . . . A sentient human being, full of free will, looks clear-eyed at what is being asked, and in some mysterious way says, and says again and again: ‘ok.’”
" . . . Because I believe callings come from God, I think that the individual will feel most satisfied and fulfilled when living out that calling. . . . [I]t is a willingness to give yourself for something that is outside of yourself."
“[P]ursuing a life calling is a conscious and uncoerced trail of decisions and priorities. . . . For me, my life calling is only part of the bigger picture. Therefore, submission is an absolute reality and necessity. I have faith God's wisdom for that mosaic. I would rather conform to that road map rather than cause it conform to my desires.”
**“If you’ve received a direct calling I think you have to be obedient to that calling for as long as you are called to do it – which probably looks like discerning daily whether or not you are still called.”
5. How do you know if you’ve fulfilled a calling? What does that look like?
“I have no clue.”
“I can only imagine that I will be content in retrospection, knowing that I can withdraw from the ambitious daily grind. I will have peace concerning the things in which I invested my time and my energy.”
“Maybe it will feel ‘finished’ once you’re done or no longer feel called to the thing, but I suspect it will look more like your calling is shifting to a new thing rather than ending.”
“[There are] three ‘stars’ that align when one gets it right: 1) a natural gift, 2) a spiritual gift, & 3) something you're passionate about.”
“I don't always like the demands a called kind of life can make. Sometimes I take a little break. I get cynical. I get tired. I get grumpy. It's not the kind of calling you'd see in a saint. It's not as good as on my best days I want it to be. But I always come back to the core. I miss it when I stray. And that's how I know it's there.”
**Doug Koskela helpfully distinguishes between “missional calling” (a guiding purpose) and a “direct calling” (a certain deed, e.g., Moses, lead my people out of Egypt) in his forthcoming, faith-based Calling and Clarity: Discovering What God Wants for Your Life.