If you’ve ever struggled with what to study in college or how to transition to a new job, you’ve been forced to ask yourself “what do I want to do with my life?”
The words of Paul tantalize us with the idea our lives have purpose:
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:10
For the follower of Jesus, this is more than some Maslow-esque drive toward self-actualization. We’ve read stories of Samuel and Isaiah crying out to God “Here am I!” We want to believe that like the prophets and kings God has a specific mission for us.
Perhaps the best word for what we’re looking for is “vocation.” The path to discovering our vocation was summarized by Frederick Beuchner as:
“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
But how do we find this place? The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. Click To Tweet
The Search for Vocation
For me, the search for vocation began in sadness, was articulated through frustration, and gets grinded out in daily practice.
The Sadness of Not Knowing Who I Am
I spent much of the first three decades of my life wanting the world to recognize me as a great performer. If I did not get cast in roles, I would sulk or even get depressed. I simultaneously developed a deep self-loathing for my failures and an intense jealousy of those who succeeded where I failed.
The problem was that I didn’t understand who I was. Sure, I had some capacity for performance, but I lacked the charisma to capture an audience and the self-discipline to hone a craft.
There were things I was passionate about and some I was even good at. I loved my church, serving my community and writing. But in my drive for recognition as a performer, I failed to appreciate the gifts I already had.
The consequences of my lack of self-awareness have been devastating. My capacity for jealousy has made relationships and gratitude difficult. My choice of an undergraduate degree, and thousands of dollars of loans I’m still paying off, was based on trying to be something I was not.
The Frustration of Not Fitting In
Over the years, my passions and skills have often been frustrated by the organizations and systems to which I belonged. In the classroom growing up, I was often labeled at “smart but disruptive.” In jobs, I often failed to pick up on essential details, even though I was praised for my communication and social skills. At church, I would often get blank stares as I pointed out problems which seemed crucial and obvious to me.
The frustration of not fitting in hit a high point for me in my mid-twenties. After less than two years, I was “encouraged to resign” from the church where I was on staff. My time there had been a frustration for everyone, including myself. I had been shuffled around, never seeming to fit in the roles available.
In what felt like an act of contrition, one of the elders took me out to lunch. While discussing my fears of impending unemployment, he said “You know Chris, I haven’t known many people like you. I think I’m probably worse off for that.”
I was too busy working through grief and mailing off resumes to understand what he meant. But eventually, it occurred to me: I didn’t fit—both in that church and that city. The problem wasn’t me. It was a reality of the system.
The Grind of Vocation
Today, I think I’m closer to living out my vocation than I ever have been. But it’s not always fun. It seldom feels deeply meaningful.
Over time I’ve discovered a deep passion: seeing new churches started for people who’d never come to church. I’ve also learned a few things I’m good at, mainly digital communications.
So, I helped start Austin Mustard Seed, because I wanted to be deeply and personally involved with starting new churches. I also started a business, Morton Wordsmith, that helps people and organizations tell their stories online.
I wish I could say that every day is a thrill. But mainly, it’s work. We’ve found a few things that we think are important to do on a weekly, quarterly and yearly basis at Austin Mustard Seed. The same is true with my business.
Each day is spent, working on the same few tasks and the same few goals. Over time, you begin to see things grow. Looking back, you can see how things have improved. But the day-to-day reality of living out my vocation is a grind. I wish I could say that living out my vocation is a thrill. But mainly, it’s a grind. Click To Tweet
Five Clues to Your Vocation You Didn’t Know You Had
The good news is that finding your vocation isn’t an impossible dream. It’s a task that anyone can we all can work toward.
I believe, that, like young Samuel, God has already been calling you! You might just not recognize his voice.
As you look at your life, there are clues to your vocation you may not even know you had. Here are five: As you look at your life, there are clues to your vocation you may not even know you had. Click To Tweet
What is one thing that you have consistently been complimented for over the years?
For me, it’s my writing. Even as I struggled in school, I was often praised for my writing. Once, in High School, I narrowly avoided being fired from a job because of a letter I wrote my boss, explaining my side of the story. In college, I was accused by a professor of plagiarism, simply because he didn’t believe that I could have written a paper I turned in.
These compliments, both direct and occasionally backhanded are a major clue to our vocation. They reveal how others see us, and the abilities and skills we may not know we possess.
What makes you angry? Not a silly frustration, but a righteous anger? It might be interpersonal, the way you see people treating each other. It might be systemic, the unnecessary problem a community, workplace or family struggle to solve.
I remember being in High School, wanting to invite my friends to church. But I could tell that the church I came from would be awkward and unfamiliar. Years later, this fueled my desire to start new churches.
Often, when we encounter frustrations, we think the right thing to do is ignore it or get over it. But frustrations can also be clues to our vocation: problems we are uniquely equipped to solve.
Some work is drudgery. Other tasks are boring. But there is also work that is so engrossing that you lose track of effort or time. Psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi named this “Flow.” You might also refer to it as “being in the zone.”
What puts you “in the zone” is unique, but the experience of it is not. It’s a powerful sense of meaningful work, concentration, and mastery that most people only experience occasionally.
Often, when we think of meaningful work, what we want is to feel “in the zone.” Notice when you experience flow, and try to create more opportunities for it in your life.
Flow is great but more likely, there are things you’re just good at. These may be skills you’ve always had a knack for. You might have learned how to do something as a kid, and pull it out every once and awhile.
Consider the things that you can do naturally, without even thinking about it, and how you might be able to use that to serve bigger purposes!
Peaks and Valleys
As we tell our story, the high points and low points help to show us who we are. High points show you what you are at your best. Low points can help you realize what you should stay away from.
When I tell my story, I often refer to a summer internship in college working with homeless youth. The experience taught me that God transforms lives. It was also a safe place for my highly extroverted, often “edgy” personality to be put to kingdom work. Although my ministry circumstances change, I continue to seek opportunities to recapture the heart of this peak experience.
Don’t Give Up on Vocation
It’d be too much to say that I’ve discovered my vocation. But I do believe I’m closer than ever—and I hope to get even closer.
God doesn’t promise us self-actualization. But he has made us “his handiwork.” God has a mission. He wants us to join, and he has works for us to do. But like Samuel, we need to learn to hear his voice.
How have you learned to hear God, and move closer to where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep needs?