Finding Your Place on the Calling Journey
It always makes me a little nervous to travel without a road map. Turn-by-turn directions don't do it for me: I want to visualize where I am going. Once I can see the route in my mind and know where the important turns are, I am much more confident that I won't get lost.
The journey to your calling is like that. By looking at the paths of fellow travelers, you'll get a big-picture view of the road you are taking. Comparing your story to theirs will offer amazing insights into how different events in your life fit into God's plan for your development, in the same way that a road map lets you visualize the twists and turns on a cross-country trip.
The first thing you'll probably notice when you look at the calling timeline is how bumpy and windy the road is. This map is very different from popular images of "following your call." The glamorous journey we imagine our heroes traveled—an ever-onward-and-upward path that (if we make the right choices) leads in a few short years to our full release—exists mostly in our imagination. The actual road is anything but straight, and it takes decades to walk it. Wilderness seasons, valleys, even being ejected from long-time roles are as much a part of the plan as great victories, golden opportunities and demonstrations of God's power.
This gap, between the road we expect and the one we eventually travel, is the source of a great deal of angst. Much of the pain and frustration of the calling journey is not so much from the actual heart surgery God does in us as it is from our fear of the operating table. We never imagined God would take us down such a path, and so we go kicking and screaming to the fulfillment of our call.
Last week I had a coaching session with a senior leader who was in the Valley of Identity. God leverages this late-life wilderness to help us fully embrace our calling identity, while at the same time learning to let it go and find our life in God alone. It was a difficult time for this pastor: unable to find work for nearly a year, he was about to lose his home to foreclosure. Even more, he feared he'd lose the respect of his peers, become unemployable and literally end up on the street, homeless. He was asking himself painful questions: "Where is God in all this? Why hasn't he come through for me? What am I doing wrong?"
A few days later, God spoke to him about the control issues in his life (while he was counseling another person about her control issues!) and he had a significant breakthrough. My friend responded by placing his situation in God's hands, letting go of trying to make something happen and actively resting in where God had placed him. By the end of the week, he had gotten a job and was able to renegotiate with the bank to save his house.
How you interpret this story depends on how you think God deals with us. Was my friend walking in disobedience for a year, and it was only when he finally repented and aligned with God's will that his prayers were answered? Was he just so hard of hearing on this issue that it took a year for God to get through to him? Or did God take him to the limit of losing everything just to "test his faith?"
That's not what this map says. The Calling Journey is not about how we fall short, but about the revelation of who our father is to us. In our successes, he is revealed as the one who believes in us, treats us as partners and wants to tackle the job together. In our sufferings and failings, he makes himself known as the great Redeemer. He is the only one who can take whatever life throws at us, including our flaws and failures, and so completely transform them that even what seemed intended for evil is woven seamlessly into the flawless fabric of his purposes.
In The Calling Journey, we don't interpret a story like this in terms of God's disfavor or our disobedience. Instead, we see God working to redeem the painful fallout of living in a broken world. He does not send financial distress or painful questions to his children, yet neither does he always save us out of them. Rather, he co-opts them, employing them to form us in ways that bring great good into our lives and the world. "Filling up the sufferings of Christ" refers to our participation in this redemptive process. The power of the resurrection invades the world through our lives, bringing joy from sorrow, growth from pain and life from death. Adversity is not a sign of God's anger, or our sin, or even a mark of our human frailty, but the place in this broken world where the great Redeemer turns sorrow into dancing.
Understanding the calling journey lets you take your hands off the wheel, knowing that in success or failure, expansion or demotion, dryness or overflow, Jesus is steering you through exactly the experiences you need to do what you were born to do. What a relief to paranoid travelers like me!