This is for all those kids who thought they were going to change the world.
We were told we’d change the world; that we’d help starving children in Africa, or preach the gospel to an indigenous tribe, or at least work in full-time Christian ministry. But now? We’re holding down jobs, staying home with children, or waiting around for the answer to True Love Waits, and life doesn’t feel quite so momentous.
We had big, thick words like “vocation” and “calling” to hold onto in those days. Words that would boom from mountaintop like the voice of God in thunder and awe—telling you exactly where and when and how you should go.
But what if “vocation” is not booming? What if vocation is small?
And what if, “calling” is actually doing something very tiny, so miniscule that no one even sees? What then? Is it still valuable?
Growing up, I have a fairly defined self-narrative; you probably do, too. It made me feel all warm and cozy. Mine goes like this: Ashley is smart. As she came of age, Ashley figured she was not popular or beautiful enough (the idols of the culture she grew up in), so she made her mark by doing really well in school. She left home, moved overseas, and got a PhD. In conclusion, Ashley is smart. This is how she will change the world. The End.
I had such a very clear idea of calling and vocation ten years ago. I was the smart one. (Replace “smart” with whatever adjective you like to use to identify yourself here). And then life happened in completely unexpected ways and I was broken apart as the babies came one after another. But I still reach after magic words that will tell me “this is the way, walk in it.” I still play semantic games to organize all the frayed edges into a narrative that somehow makes sense. That accounts for detours and desires and puts my life all to right. In my self-narrative it’s all neatly tied up with a pretty bow.
Because frankly, more times than not it feels like my self-narrative is split right open or veered off course. Because I am no longer the smart one. I drive my four children in a minivan with a cracked bumper littered with a few rogue rotten apple cores. I circle around a city next door to the one I grew up in. I live 10 miles from my childhood home. I am no longer the special snowflake I imagined myself to be. I do not live in an ivory tower, surrounded by books and quiet. I argue with a preschooler instead of crafting academic thesis statements and I am covered in the peanut butter smears of my toddler daughter. My life is entirely unglamorous.
I’m right in the middle of the narrative of an ordinary life. And when you’re stuck in the middle of the story, it’s hard to see how the loose ends fit together. Most of the time, I want to toss words like “vocation” into the kitchen drawer and open them only when life has slowed and I have time to be contemplative once more.
In the middle of the story, I frame my moves and the four kids, and my minivan-driving self into: “really I was meant to be a writer. This is all great material.” I tell myself that the academic part of me was the flirtation of my do-gooder self, but really, the writer was the thing all along. Maybe it was. Maybe it is. It sounds like something I can put in my bio—something witty about trading ivory towers for Lego towers. But maybe it’s more than just witty words.
Maybe vocation and calling is so much more than an equation to figure out. And maybe calling is big and vocation is small. Because calling is simple, but it’s fathoms deep. It’s borne out of knowing who I am—not the smart version, but simply the loved child of Jesus. My self-narrative is only this: I am the beloved child of God. He delights in me.
My calling is to follow Jesus. That’s it. That calling is a big and wild ride and makes sense of the countless twists and turns, of the cities and suburbs, of my love of story in whatever form that takes. It means I’m welcomed into a downwardly mobile narrative where freedom is found in giving up control to a Father who is so good. But this calling is also miniscule.
It means I practice showing up, doing the next (sometimes hard) thing. It means I am present to my children, my friends, my neighbors, instead of using them to fit into a story about myself. It means that I have the space and time to love.
So if you’re stuck in the middle—when you thought you should be “changing the world,” I want you to know that you are. Because all of it—the Legos, the dish-washing, the things that make you so passionate that you think you might explode when you’re doing what you’re created to do—they all are “calling.” They’re all ways you work out that you are immensely loved. And when you can rest in being loved then you can be present to your people.
So take a deep breath, world-changer, you’re doing it. It just might look small and intimate instead of far away and glamorous. Show up, do the next thing, build the Lego tower. Breathe. There’s not more to do to work out your calling. It’s simply resting in this: You are loved. That is what changes the world.