By Paige Gutacker
In his brief, helpful book Here I Am: Now What on Earth Should I be Doing?, Quentin Schultze makes the case that Christians are all called to a common vocation of stewardship of God’s creation. We also each have a “life calling” that depends on our “life stations” — those areas of our work and relationships in which God means for us to serve based on our unique design. This is a beautiful reminder of the meaning and significance of all we do.
Yet these life callings are often difficult to discern — and perhaps especially so for young adults. As twenty-somethings finish their studies and look toward the future, the question of vocation is urgent and, it seems, particularly difficult to answer amid other pressures and responsibilities. This struggle has become increasingly evident at my church, Christ Church, Waco, as we walk alongside undergraduate and graduate students looking for better ways to think through their calling. It’s part of why we’ve launched a nine-month fellowship for college graduates called Brazos Fellows (more on that follows).
In the course of our discussions about God’s will and our vocation, I’ve realized that we Christians often hold unquestioned assumptions that don’t help us — assumptions that tend to confuse or even hinder us from embracing God’s purposes for our lives. Perhaps some of these will sound familiar to you, too.
Questionable Assumption 1: God’s will for my life pertains mainly to big decisions like choosing a job or spouse.
When we look for references to the will of God in the Bible, we find that they are largely about following his commands. God’s will is that we would obey what he has already revealed to us. To Be a Christian: An Anglican Catechism says the answer to Where can you find God’s will? is this:
I find the will of God outlined in the Ten Commandments, learn its fullness from the whole of Scripture, and see it culminate in the Law of Christ, which calls for my complete love of God and my neighbor.
God’s will has more to do with faithfulness in our everyday lives than it does with figuring out the big decisions. For those of us who have long struggled to discern God’s will, this is good news!
Questionable Assumption 2: God’s call on my life is entirely individual.
In the medieval period, vocation was limited to those who devoted their lives to work in the Church, but as my friends at Opus: The Art of Work explain, the Reformers expanded this notion. For the Reformers, vocation includes the Creation calling (our mandate to cultivate and create culture), the Gospel calling (the Great Commission), and our particular callings. Under this expansive definition of vocation, all Christians take part in the first two callings, and our personal call only makes sense when it follows and is in line with our shared corporate vocations. It follows, then, that God’s call is not primarily about our employment or how we make money — a particularly challenging truth for those of us who are high achievers or given to careerism.
Questionable Assumption 3: I’ll know I’ve found God’s intended path because the way will be smooth.
Our language betrays our belief, or at least our hope, that the will of God will be smooth. We pray for the “right doors to open” or conclude that our decisions were correct because of a sense of peace. On one level, this is understandable, as good opportunities or pleasant emotions seem to provide a kind of confirmation. Yet there is a danger here. We often selfishly want the “right” direction to be the one that is both obvious and free of hardship. In contrast, the witness of the Church and her saints and martyrs is that to follow Christ means to embrace the way of the cross. When it comes to the will of God and our emotions, we should learn from the paradox reflected in a 1979 BCP collect: “Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace.” God’s call does lead to peace, but not through ease or comfort, and rarely with the immediacy we would like.
Questionable Assumption 4: Until I’m certain of God’s direction, I shouldn’t do anything.
We wrongly think that doing nothing is better than doing the “wrong” something. Assuming that inaction is neutral, we wait for a clear sign or open door. Again, however, the BCP corrects this mindset by teaching us to confess that we have sinned not only by “what we have done” but also “by what we have left undone.” Inaction is a kind of action, and, in the face of uncertainty or confusion, waiting around indefinitely can be, to put it bluntly, sinful (see the Parable of the Talents).
Hear me carefully on this point: there’s a big difference between passivity and prayerful waiting. In the former, we wait for God to speak to us on our terms. In the latter, we open ourselves to God’s guidance and respond regardless of whether we have clarity on what we think is most important.
Prayerful waiting is at the heart of Brazos Fellows. In this program, college graduates take the time to gain clarity on their design and various vocations — but this is much more than a gap year. It’s nine months of active discernment with tutors, spiritual directors, and vocational coaches, all framed by disciplines of study, prayer, and service. If you know of any young adults who could use someone to walk alongside them as they reflect on their calling, we are accepting applications for the 2018-19 cohort through May 15.
For the rest of us, how might we approach these questions with a different set of assumptions? How would our discernment deepen if we stressed the call to everyday obedience? How might we embrace the corporate, shared character of our vocations? What does it mean for us to walk in the way of the cross? And what would it look like to face uncertainty with prayerful waiting rather than passivity? Let us learn to hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the words of the prophet Micah:
He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?
Paige Gutacker holds a master’s degree in theological studies from Regent College, runs Crossroads Coaching as a Certified Life and Career Coach, and serves as assistant director of Brazos Fellows (firstname.lastname@example.org).