Finding Your Calling Without Losing Your Identity

When I decided it was time to leave my dream job with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship it was a confusing time. I knew my decision to join InterVarsity was the best career decision I ever made, rivaled only by the day I decided to leave.

Cue identity crisis.  What on earth happened to my calling?

Did I screw it up?

Have diverted myself off the glory road God so lavishly planned out for me?

Where is my identity now?

When I began working in campus ministry in 2000 it was because I felt “called” to it, which is to say, I felt excited about it, and I was good at it, which made it easy for me to find myself in it, identity in all.

This is also true: I fell in love with African-American college students of which the job was hiring applicants. I was uniquely suited to fulfill this role based on where life had taken me. I hadn’t thought much on weighty matters such as “calling” & “dream jobs.” I just desperately wanted to do something that honored God with my life, so I did.

Once I realized I had a cause and a voice, I did it.

I never bothered to waste time wondering if I was the right one to do it, or if my being a woman had anything to do with my qualifications.

I was attending I.V.’s national black student conference when the speaker invited 600-ish students to publicly acknowledge the fields they were going into. By the tens and twenties I watched students stand, planning lives in law, medicine, engineering and education. It struck a deep chord in my heart when the preacher asked how many of us were headed into full-time ministry and only 5 stood.

When he made further inquiry on how many were planning to go overseas into full time missions, the number dropped to just one.

All manner of holy discontent rose up within my angry bones over our lack of gratitude for what God had done in our lives through campus ministry.

Who, I wondered, will go out to reach African-American students?

Calling, for me, came as I realized, I couldn’t not do it.

Though the trials were many and though I was never in want of growing pains, my 16 combined years in InterVarsity both as staff and student were in so many ways, a dream. My time in I.V. was a dream I never intended to end.

Would I ever enjoy a calling more?

Would I ever be as challenged, as focused, as driven?

I started to see my time in I.V. was not the sum of my being nor what made me acceptable to God. It’s mildly comical now, but I actually let myself believe there would be nothing left of me if I stepped away from my “calling,” even though my “calling” had become a distracted nightmare.

Besides my aforementioned identity issues, I was working alongside my husband at a time when our marriage had fallen to a million little pieces and while I was facing the darkest demons of my life, including depression, but not limited to a colicky newborn.
Just those small issues.

Deep down I knew it wasn’t the husband that needed replacing, it was me, my heart of stone, my problems and consequently my job. I foolishly believed my husband and children were not a part of that “calling” and allowed them to play second fiddle to the freak show that had become my life.

It wasn’t until I left I glimpsed my new calling.

I needed to love the Lord my God with all my heart, all my soul, all my strength and love my neighbor as myself.

The first neighbor I had to concern myself with was the one laying next to me in bed. Also, I had to relearn how to engage, invest, prepare, train an nurture my two sons.  Second order of business, I found a j-o-b to contribute to our family’s welfare. Third, I needed to forget my “life’s calling” for the moment. In other words, not worry about future opportunities to write, speak, lead, give, extend mercy, mentor or disciple, all things I love to do.

With all of 7 months hind sight under my belt I can say this:

Sometimes we make “calling” more complicated than it needs to be.

I imagine at least half of you need to move forward in doing something you love and feel uniquely gifted to do though sky writing has yet to happen. Probably the rest of you are more like me, completely ignoring the basics in favor of a grand “calling,” or “dream job.”
Move forward in faith and simple obedience.

You will not throw God for a loop.

  • Preston Yancey

    Grace, this is grace. Preach on.

    • Grace at {Gabbing with Grace}

      thanks, Preston. =)

  • Adam Nash

    Great words, Grace. I enjoyed reading this and thing you are spot on. All to often we make following God’s “call” on our lives something more than it really needs to be. Thanks for writing.

    • Grace at {Gabbing with Grace}

      Thanks, Adam! Agreed!

  • Laurel Griffith

    Great post. For me, God’s call has always been about seasons. There are lessons to be learned and purpose for each time of life. I have found God will use my earlier experiences in the next phase of the journey. In each season, living with purpose means living with joy.

    • Grace at {Gabbing with Grace}

      Laurel, love your perspective here…to take & hold each season with respect & purposeful obedience, which will ultimately prepare one for whatever is next. Thanks for the encouragement!

    • Rev Wendy Wolf

      Laurel, you said what I was thinking
      and I have 2 other things as well to share from my perspective:

      Grace, what you shared reminded me of this quote:

      “Nothing before, nothing behind;
      the steps of faith fall on the seeming void and find the rock beneath”
      - John Greenleaf Whittier

      This is our call, in every step, large and small – to go where led; sometimes its hard, sometimes its life-changing. Sometimes it looks like backward… sometimes it feels crappy. But the fruit is yummy.
      Thanks so much for sharing, and being a wonderful role-model!

      “It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.”
      - St. Francis of Assisi

      From my perspective, our ministry, our Calling is to BE in God, everything flows from there.
      When we are in alignment with God, we are filled with Spirit, we are IN love, IN Light, IN Life, On our Path… the world changes.
      Our service, our calling naturally proceeds, when we keep our eyes on Jesus, “the author and finisher of our faith”.

      Jesus walked around, BEING himself in alignment with the Father, doing what he was led to do each moment – and all kinds of beauty and transformation resulted. He was called to BE Jesus: Light, Life, Way; in his unique way, and the world changed.

      “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.
      He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”
      -Jesus, according to John 14

      We are Called to be as Jesus in the world, in our own unique way.
      No matter where we are, where we have been, where we think we are going;
      Regardless of money, vocation, partner, family, or lack-thereof:
      each moment is our chance to follow him, to be as Jesus in the world:
      to BE Light in the world, BE Life in the world, BE the Way.
      When we are spiritually focused, in alignment with God, filled with Spirit,
      all things are for Good… and the world changes.

      “And we have known that to those loving God all things do work together for good, to those who are called according to purpose”
      -Paul in Romans 8

      thanks for reading my thoughts, wendy

  • Amy Hunt

    Grace, your story speaks to me today, as I wrestle whether to continue pursuing a different job that feels so right in so many ways, and yet wonder if my Any.Thing. is really “No” and promotions need a pause. I am struggling and confused and waiting for God to speak, as I continue wondering if baby #2 will ever come, and if a promotion/new job is just too stressful for my family. Or, if maybe it’s for me.

    • Grace at {Gabbing with Grace}

      Amy, so glad the Lord used it to speak to you! You have a lot your considering. In all the mistakes I’ve made over those years in ministry the biggest one that stands out to me is when I did not choose my marriage or my kids first (and usually found that those times was when I was most deceived by my own ambitions). As I’ve tried to really work hard on this I’ve been using a quote I found in the book “The Happier Home,” to guide me: “choose the bigger life.” The beauty of that thought is that it’s going to look differently for everyone, jsut as following God’s will does. So, I can’t say (and shouldn’t!) what you should do but simple obedience, honoring your family & choosing the bigger life have been good advice for me! Blessings to you…

  • Sharon@HikingTowardHome

    Thank you for writing this. I am thoroughly glad I read it. Clicking over to your blog to find more wordy goodness….