When I think of my calling, I get a dial tone
Gary North defines an individual’s calling as the most important thing you can do in which you would be most difficult to replace. In most cases, says North, neither our calling nor its effect can be assessed monetarily. One’s occupation, on the other hand, is simply what puts food on the table.
Not everyone is as fortunate as Gary North. At 18, Gary knew his calling: whether he made any money at it or not, he would write a commentary on biblical economics from Genesis to Revelation. More than forty years and some 10,000 pages later, he recently said he was about eight weeks from completing this project. North regards the project as homework. It may be that no one besides himself ever reads it, but he will have honored his calling while holding down an occupation that was closely allied to it.
Unlike Gary North, I have pursued sequential callings, becoming disaffected with them in turn as limitation or discontent intervened. The apostle Paul reminds me of this pattern in the twelfth verse of the sixth chapter of his second letter to the Corinthian church: “You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted by your own affections.” But I think what really separated me from my calling for much of my life was confusion of calling with occupation. I was scripted to believe that I was irresponsible and unrealistic to expect to make a living at what I found purposeful, much less anything I thought it was important to do; and certainly nothing could be said in favor of anything for which I harbored a passion. It went without saying that reality and dreams could not co-exist in the same life.
My early scriptwriter was my mother, a highly self-actualized woman who wanted something else for her daughters. Only she could have the reality of her dreams; for us, dreams were supposed to give way to reality — and if reality was not harsh and bleak, we were still dreaming. I can’t say that I really understand my mother’s stagecraft; I can only know that it influenced me for too long. The advantage was that I acquired an extraordinary degree of tolerance for tedium and like hallmarks of my mother’s version of reality.
Part of the trouble I had with establishing myself in a calling, as I have already noted, was that I tried to combine my calling with an occupation, and when I was thwarted, the occupation prevailed. In a duel between calling and occupation, occupation hoists the banner of bread and timber. It seemed that my mother was right: my calling wasn’t grounded in reality. It’s hard to apprehend one’s reality when one’s nature does not comport with one’s factual environment. I was educated and acculturated to be a modern professional woman, but somehow my spirit, or at least the things that ignited its passions, were of an earlier century, as well as of an entirely different ethos from that of my modern professional peers.
I am fortunate to be fully engaged in my calling. My most important work, in which I am quintessentially irreplaceable, is as my husband’s wife, and as my cat’s keeper, and as my friends’ friend, and as the author of my writing, including this blog. I am very blessed at this stage of my life that I have no occupation that conflicts with or subtracts energy from this calling.
May you who are younger come to this sooner.