August 16, 2012
Keep Plugging Away
An Untheological Reflection on Calling by Suanne Camfield
One of my favorite moments of the 2012 Olympic Games was when Great Britain's Jessica Ennis snagged a gold medal in the heptathlon. If you didn't see it, I'm sorry you missed it. Headed into the last event of the competition--the dreaded 800 meters--all Ennis had to do was finish respectably and she'd win gold. But with an entire stadium on their feet, and an entire country's hopes pinned on her shoulders, Ennis did more than just finish respectably. She smoked the pack. Nike must have been on to something: she totally found her greatness.
I think I wept.
We've been doing a little series here at Strangely Dim on calling and I can't help but wonder how often we (and by "we" I mean "I") think the Ennis endings, as great as they are, are the only ones that matter. I once had a missionary tell me that people often think God has called them to do something great, but what they forget is that God has called them first and foremost to himself. I think there might be something to that.
As a senior in high school (a long, long, long way from the Olympics) I was recruited by my soon-to-be college of choice to compete for them in the heptathlon--the event where Ennis found her greatness this summer. One day, only a few months into my training, I was running a 400-meter sprint, only instead of crossing the finish line, I sat down on the side of the track and started crying. A few weeks later, a bone scan confirmed that I had developed stress fractures in both of my shins. I was "redshirted," suspending my eligibility to compete during my freshman year. I was devastated. Well-wishers said redshirting was a respectable way to start a career, but I didn't much care about respectability. I wanted to smoke the pack.
[Insert Identity Crisis here.]
I'd often call home and lament my "failure" to my parents. I couldn't do the thing I thought I was brought to college to do. Adding insult to injury, my team went on to win the conference championship that year (the only year they'd do so in my tenure there) and I had to sit on the side and watch--no skin in the game for me. At the end of each conversation I had with my dad, he'd leave me with the same bit of encouragement: Just keep plugging away. It will eventually pay off. Just keep plugging away.
That was nineteen years ago. Now in my mid-thirties, identity crises (mostly) resolved, I'm deeply convicted to do the things I feel God brought me to this earth to do . . . if only I knew exactly what those things were. As I've tried to draw the mystery of calling out of others, the more I've realized how infinitely mysterious calling is--few people actually know what they want to be when they grow up. Even when they are grown up.
The first time I felt what I'd describe as calling was about seven years ago. My husband, Eric, two kids and I had just moved to the western suburbs of Chicago from rural Ohio. As an at-home mom of two toddlers, I was exhausted, overwhelmed and ridiculously lonely. A few months into our move, a nasty stomach bug hit our entire crew. As luck would have it, I was the first to recover. Before anyone could stop me (and, moaning from a fetal position on the couch, they couldn't) I snagged Eric's laptop and dashed out of the house. I sat at a coffee shop and did something I hadn't done in four years--I wrote.
And something inside of me came alive. I think my soul actually lurched.
While I realize I can't exactly build a theology on "lurch," I've never looked back at that day with anything but certainty that it was a life-changing moment--the one in which God impressed upon me a sense of purpose and direction. For the next three years, I threw myself toward that direction. I started writing more and speaking quite a bit, but my freelance gigs weren't exactly paying the bills. So once my kids were in school, Eric gently "suggested" that I look for a job. I wasn't opposed to the idea, but I had been an at-home mom for eight years--quite the gap in the 'ol resumé. More to the point, though, I was afraid that the more time I spent working, the less time I'd have to speak and write. At the end of the day, working seemed like the best option so, on a wing and a prayer, at the age of thirty-five, I took an unpaid internship at IVP. Four months later, I had me a job. And it's been good.
But now life is about juggling. I work thirty-two hours a week as a publicist. My kids, now nine and ten, are physically more independent but need me more than ever. I manage meals and bills and car pools and Little League and swim team and homework until my head hurts. I try to be a good life partner to my megachurch-pastor husband who is working on his MDiv. I exercise at 5 a.m. to keep my sanity. I have friends I couldn't breathe without. And in the midst of it all, that moment in the coffee shop sits in my soul and beckons me to return to it again and again. And so I do. I write and I speak as much as I can. And each night I climb into bed so tired I could cry.
Sometimes I wonder if it's worth it. Often I wouldn't be surprised if it's not. I'm pretty sure, given the scope of the world's problems, God could care less about my budding resumé. But somehow, against all odds, I believe that he does care.
And so what do I do?
I get out of bed. I fall to my knees and plead. I surrender any false notions about finding my greatness and ask Jesus to first and foremost call me to himself. I stand up and put one foot in front of the other and trust the things I know to be true--that God cares more about my character than my competency, more about redemption than my resumé. That I can only do what I'm capable of doing, that I can only give what I am capable of giving, that I can only live the story that God has given me to live. My future is not ultimately mine to script anyway.
I hold fast to bits of wisdom that people have shared with me over the years:
From my friend Ed: "We're always looking for what God calls us to do next and in the process we forget that he's called us to do whatever we're doing right now."
From Mindy: "You can ask me how I got to where I am, but the truth is I couldn't have planned it if I tried."
From Adele: "Maybe instead of asking what you want to do, you need to start asking who you want to be."
From Eric (and I really hate this one): "Moses was a shepherd for forty years before he saw the burning bush." In other words, be patient. God knows what he's doing.
And I read things from those who have spent quite a bit of time wrestling with their own calling:
Brennan Manning in The Wisdom of Tenderness: "Everybody has a vocation to some form of life-work. However, behind that call (and deeper than any call), everybody has a vocation to be a person fully and deeply human in Christ Jesus."
Michael Card in The Walk: "Behind every specific call, whether it is to teach or preach or write or encourage or comfort, there is a deeper call that gives shape to the first: the call to give ourselves away--the call to die."
I remember what Eugene Peterson so clearly shows us about calling--that it's all about a long obedience in the same direction.
And somehow I become okay with doing what my dad told me to do all those years ago--just keep plugging away--and trust that the God who has formed me, gifted me and called me will take care of the rest.
Read Dave's reflection here on our calling as Christians to be people who go.
Read Lisa's reflection here on our calling as Christians to be people who mourn with hope.