We’re gradually emerging from the coronavirus pandemic. And along with the relief I’ve been feeling has come a sober recognition. We were already in another sort of epidemic before anyone had ever heard of COVID-19.
Aggression, addiction, and anxiety are symptoms of this illness. And these symptoms have become increasingly common for years.
They point to a spiritual condition: despair. The sense that all our struggles and yearnings and sacrifices might be pointless. In other words, we’re in the midst of a crisis of hope.
I wrote my most recent book Looking for God in Messy Places to help us find hope. In its pages I discuss how discerning and responding to your true calling is one of the pillars of a hope-filled life. Here’s a slightly revised excerpt from Chapter Five “Hope and Calling”:
The essential human calling is to love God by loving what God loves, how God loves it.
We frequently refer to this as the Great Commandment or the summary of the Law. Jesus himself summarized the whole Torah by saying that we should love God with every ounce of our being and love our neighbor as if our own life depends upon their well-being (Matthew 22:34-40). Strictly speaking, this is our calling.
When you hear the word commandment, you may think of an order issued or a directive given by an authority figure. If you refuse or fail to obey, negative consequences follow. You might begin to think that if we don’t love, God won’t love us anymore. But again, this is our calling.
God’s love attracts us, draws us toward love. God loves us because God’s very nature is love. Love invites us into itself, to become one. Love invites us to be love and become our truest selves. So, our calling is to be the image of God in whatever occupation, situation, or set of circumstances in which we find ourselves. This is who we were created to be….
Experiencing a sense of calling brings with it the realization that your existence on this planet makes a difference. Think of it as your “George Bailey” moment.
George Bailey is the protagonist of the classic Christmas film It’s a Wonderful Life. Facing scandal from a financial crisis not of his own making, George decides to take his own life. He leaps from a bridge into the icy waters below.
An inept but kindly angel named Clarence rescues him from drowning and introduces him to a world with which he is completely unfamiliar: the world that never knew the small kindnesses and selfless generosity of George Bailey, the world as it would have been had George never existed.
His beloved hometown was a meaner, bleaker place because he had never lived there. The people he had known as lively and joyful were guarded, irritable, or timid.
George had been the president of a small, struggling savings and loan. He didn’t pursue wealth, celebrity, or political influence. On the contrary, he drew a meager salary and lived modestly in order to put the bank’s resources to work improving the lives of his hardworking, struggling neighbors through loans that other institutions would not risk.
Most of us will live quite ordinary lives in jobs we take to make ends meet. These jobs are not likely to offer us a great platform from which to change the world. However, in most every line of work, we encounter people. We brush up against Jesus’s sheep, and we can feed them with our respect, attention, and kindness.
For instance, my mother’s last job was behind a deli counter in a grocery store. She greeted people by name and remembered their usual orders. Her focus was on making her customers’ day better. She fed Jesus’s sheep, and her attention to serving others was the source of her own hopefulness.
Researchers would probably say that my mother had stumbled onto one of the keys to a fulfilling life. Devoting ourselves to helping others in our daily work makes that work, whatever it may be, seem worthwhile. We feel that we’re making a difference.
Emily Esfahani Smith writes, “No matter what occupies our days, when we reframe our tasks as opportunities to help others, our lives and our work feel more significant.” Or as Jesus put it, “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25).
Devoting our lives to the well-being of others—losing our lives—is a way of being ready for what we are all called to do: give ourselves back to God.