Consider Your Calling: Six Questions for Discerning Your Vocation, By Gordon T. Smith, 2016, 129 pp.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you may have noticed there have been more than enough books on God’s will that have flooded the Christian market. Some of them deal with a variety of questions such as vocation, marriage, calling, giftedness, etc. In this book, Gordon Smith has chosen to focus on the topic of vocation. The good news is this book is helpful for those of us that aren’t entering into the marketplace right out of college. There are plenty of gems in this book for those of us who have made transitions into other careers or find ourselves asking, “Now what?” I found this book to be packed with a tremendous amount of wisdom and practical insight. With that said, here are some of my favorite quotes from the book.
God’s Calling and Us
“What I am saying is that God’s call on our lives will fit reasonably—and I use the word reasonably intentionally— within a considered assessment of who we are. Vocation is not found through some great spark of light, not typically, at least. We will not likely have an angel come and visit us as Mary did. Rather, for most of us it will come through the diligence of asking questions, thinking clearly and carefully, weighing possibilities and coming to what is, as my colleague at Ambrose University, Jonathan Goosen, has put it, a “rationally satisfying” way of seeing ourselves. How can I be a steward of this life, and how has God uniquely cultivated in my heart a vision for what matters and the capacity to do something about it? What is the best way I can live my life for Christ and for others in a way that is consistent with how God has created me? Self-knowledge is not, then, an act of selfishness or self-centeredness, but an act of stewardship, of seeing ourselves in truth so that we can live in truth for Christ and for others. However, we do need to be alert to how the focus on self can easily lead to self-absorption.”- pgs 47-48.
“There is a gracious movement from idealism—thinking we can be anything and will be heroes fixing the world’s problems—to a naming of the actual life that is before us. By letting go of idealism I do not mean we let go of dreams and ambition. Not at all. But now, these dreams—the aspiration of our hearts—fit who we are and fit our world, our context, our lives. Now our sense of purpose fits us and we begin to invest time and energy to live out of that reality. As noted, this will require courage. Saying yes to our lives will mean saying no to that which is not us. But if we manage this transition—essentially a spiritual crisis—with wisdom and grace, it will be one of the most significant growth points of our lives. It requires a profound level of honesty—we stop living with illusions about who we are or wish we were—and accept the life that has been given to us. We embrace it, we choose it, we walk with it.”- pg 63.
“If we are going to thrive vocationally in our mid-adult years, focus is imperative. Foundational. But there are two other things that are very close seconds, almost as critical as focus in our vocational development. First, we have to master our craft. It is now or never. Well, okay, maybe that is an overstatement. But if so, barely so. Now it is the time to drill down and pursue the way of excellence. For example, I think of the young faculty member at a university: mid-thirties, doctoral studies completed, now in a position where she has the possibility to grow and develop professionally. Bear down, I say, and learn the craft to which you are called: master the art of teaching and classroom instruction; get about your research and writing and learn to do it well. Learn, early on, how to be a participant—a good and winsome player—in faculty governance and contribute in a What Is Your Life Stage? way that fosters institutional vitality.” – pgs. 64-65.
Naming our Reality
“ It is essential that we name reality and learn to live within our situation as it actually is and not as we wish it to be, but we must not be so resigned to the social order that we fail to accept and embrace the call to make a difference. Sometimes, our social location may be one in which, as a woman, we feel we cannot accept or embrace a role because of how the social context “constrains” us. Perhaps we live with this. Or perhaps not. Perhaps we instead resolve that we will press against those limits. This is, of course, a matter of discernment: to know where God is calling us to live within constraints and when we are called to push against the status quo. In other words, we speak of constraints, but this does not mean there is never a time to challenge what are perceived to be our limits with a gracious courage, creativity and conviction. There will be opportunities when we sense the divine initiative in this situation, for this time and place. I wonder if, in some way, every calling is meant to challenge the status quo.
Every calling is a “new thing” by which we are grace to these very real circumstances and constraints. We engage our circumstances with deliberation, choice and responsibility, and ask: How can I be intentional, doing the right thing to which I am called, rather than It is essential that we name reality and learn to live within our situation as it actually is and not as we wish it to be. We choose to do what needs to be done in this time and place. And yet, while we live with a holy discontent in our circumstances, there is also a necessary call for each of us to live graciously within our circumstances. Similarly, just as nothing is gained by constantly comparing ourselves to others—their gifts, opportunities—nothing is gained by wishing you had a different set of circumstances. Rather, wisdom calls us to we see ourselves as placed in this situation, providentially by the hand of God, and we give ourselves wholeheartedly to what is before us.”- pgs 83-84.
Constraints and Opportunities
“One way to think about our context—our location in time— is to see both the constraints and opportunities that mark our situation. When we do a read of our circumstances we will always come up against constraints, the limits that we inevitably bump up against, and opportunities of potential ways forward from within and moving beyond our situation. Since our situation will always be marked by both constraints and opportunities, we can engage with a hopeful realism. In both cases, we need to be clear: Are these real opportunities and are these real constraints? When the door is closed, the door is closed. If the train has left the station then we missed the train. Nothing is gained by wishing it otherwise and nothing is gained by harping about it or bemoaning our fate. Now we have to step back and consider our situation. Without despair, we name our reality and consider our options What Are Your Life Circumstances? With all the creativity that God has given us. No illusions. No wishful thinking it was otherwise. No blaming others or ourselves. It is critical that we see things clearly, so we can and must ask: What opportunities and options are truly before us— real, live possibilities that arise out of our current situation? Yes, we respond with creativity and hopefulness, but it is a hopeful realism, not wishful thinking or misguided optimism.”- pgs 80-81
“Worry is useless and inconsistent with our knowledge of God as the One who is providentially present to each one of us. Some fear financial loss or insecurity. We live in a culture that preaches the gospel of economic security—which may well be an oxymoron—and that a life well-lived is a life of growing assets and a secure retirement, so much so that it would seem that the only reason for living and working is to guarantee that our senior years are “safe.” But even young people will often hesitate to wade out into the waters of life because they fear the vulnerability when they no longer have the backstop of their parents’ financial resources. Or those in midlife cannot do the right thing because all they see are the economic implications of their decisions. For others, there is the fear of criticism or failure, the lack of validation, or the disappointment of parents or others who matter to us. Perhaps as a child it was virtually impossible to please your parents or to know the affirmation that every child must know to be able to take risks, knowing that failure is only a bump in the road and an opportunity for new learning. A perfectionist parent almost inevitably results in a young person who is hesitant to step out and try something new.”-pgs 107-108.
Obviously, Smith has thought long and hard about these issues. I assume he has counseled others on this topic. This book ministered to me on numerous levels. I think it can be a great source of wisdom and encouragement for those who read it.