Calling, Conviction, and Charlie Brown: Confessions of a Chaplain who Likes the Letter “C”

downloadIn the recent Peanut’s Movie, Charlie Brown’s younger sister, Sally, remarks that she has completed her last day of school forever.  Her jubilation is short lived when Charlie reminds her that while school is done for this year, she still has 8 more years of grammar school, 4 more years of high school, then 4 more years of college.  In dismay, Sally retorts, “that’s 37 years!”  Her math may have been slightly off, but Sally has a valid point.  Our society has gradually demanded more education than in previous generations for the majority of jobs, resulting in many being overqualified.  Yet even with all these additional years of school, many young adults still seem unable to become settled in their professions.  We can speculate why this is and comment on the dangers and opportunities this new environment provides, but that is not necessarily the point of this blog.

What I am really interested in is the issue of calling.  How is that some know instinctively which profession to enter from a young age while others spend years of time and money pursuing a degree which they later decide they have no real interest in?  Who has the authority to determine whether or not someone is called to a religious life?  To what extent does the responsibility lie with the school and to what extent is the calling owned by the individual and the faith community of which they are a part?

These are just a cross section of the questions I have been wrestling with now that I have completed my MDiv and am considering what comes next.  I am in the midst of determining whether I will go for more schooling or try to settle vocationally.  With so many dreams and aspirations it can be difficult to prioritize what comes next and, of course, there is the question of how a future family will also enrich or else complicate these academic and religious pursuits.

In the midst of such questioning, I have decided to apply for my Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE/chaplaincy) units. The application for this program is quite intense and requires a keen self-awareness and sense of calling.  The questions on the form require me to intentionally think about what my long-term goals are, how ordination is going to fit into this entire process, and whether or not my denomination is supportive of my future plans.

Truthfully, there is no easy way to answer these questions.  It requires much soul searching and moments of both clarity and confusion.  There are many voices convincing me to go in multiple directions and it can be challenging to determine which voice to listen to.  Yet ultimately there is only one voice that truly matters: the voice of truth.

So in the midst of trying to determine what type of ministry I will be entering, how do I discover what my true path is?  Here is my game plan:

Back in 2008, I did an academic study on the issue of calling.  For my research I read a profound book called Sorting it All Out: Discerning God’s Call to Ministry By: Alice Cullinan. In this book, Cullinan states that a sense of calling is comprised of three parts: an inward call, an outward call, and a sense of need.

While accepting these three components, we must constantly be vigilant of our own ego and the expectations society and our families have placed on us.  We must own the calling for ourselves and come to know the unique sense of mission and vision God has given to us personally.

Yet although personal calling is the basis for our sense of wanting to enter vocational ministry it is not enough to sustain us.  We must rely on the support and guidance of others who know us well.  This, of course, has its challenges.  Sometimes we may face discouragement due to parents who wished a different professional path for us, denominational structures which preclude women from certain roles, doctors who advise against certain positions due to our own ill health, or others who do not understand our vision for creating something that never existed before.  It is important that we cling to our internal vision, yet it is equally important to have support during times of stress and burn out.  Therefore, without at least a few supporters who truly share in our sense of calling, it will be very challenging to maintain our vision on our own.

Next, there must be a need for what we are doing.  This is not as difficult as it sounds because there is always need in our world.  We need pastoral hearts in our parishes and in our prisons, in the inner city and the suburbs.  We need missionaries, but we also need doctors, lawyers, and engineers who have strong moral values and convictions.  Basically if you are looking for a need, you will find it – you simply have to be open-minded.

Lastly, there is no need to become anxious as we discover our calling.  One of my professors once said, “God is more concerned with you being in His will than you are.”  This has proven to be sound counsel.  It is easy to become preoccupied with a sense of calling to the point of scrutinizing every single aspect rather than seeing the big picture.  Instead, we must trust that God has the final outcome in His hands and believe that He will provide us with the right opportunities, while guarding us from the places we are not meant to be.  Through spending time in prayer, Scripture reading, and having conversations with others around us, it will eventually become clear to us which path we should take.  In the interim, we must be proactive rather than fixating on fear.

Following God’s Will for our lives is difficult.  We must surrender our lack of control and replace it with trust.  Nevertheless, by following our inner calling, seeking the counsel of others, and increasing our local and global awareness, it will become clear where we are meant to be and that knowledge can result in us helping to shape the world.




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