Ever since I became a Christian at the age of 19, two statements that I heard many times from various Christian leaders and friends had stuck with me. One was, “You need to know your calling.” The other was, “You need to marry someone who has the same calling.”
If you were someone like me, you would have been pondering and praying about the subject of calling for most of your Christian life. Now at the age of 36, I have spent eight years working with a mission nonprofit, two years studying in a seminary, four years serving in a church part-time, and four years being married. You probably think that I surely have figured out my calling. Well, I have to say, only partially. However, throughout the years in ministry, I have figured out one or two things about calling that are very different from what I believed in my 20s.
For us Christians, we have been called to leave the kingdom of darkness, forsake sins, and come to the kingdom of light (Colossians 1:9-14). We have been called to Christ Himself. Here we are, standing in the kingdom of God by His saving grace, what do we do now?
Ever since I repented of my sins through tears and snot, and received Christ into my heart on my university dormitory floor in China, slowly but surely, my life began to change. In those early days of my Christian walk, I experienced so much grace and joy from God. My newly found faith seemed too good to be true. I desired to know this God more in-depth. I thought, what better way to know someone than serving that person side by side? I heard from others that serving God meant to be in full-time ministry. I was all in without knowing much about what full-time ministry was. So after graduating from university with a journalism degree, I signed up for a mission nonprofit, excited for an adventure of knowing God more and deeper through serving him.
The initial three months of discipleship training turned into eight years’ volunteer mission work. I staffed some discipleship / cross-cultural mission courses, did a lot of translations, led teams, and many outreaches. I undoubtedly had come to know and experience the Lord in a personal and profound way, for which I am eternally thankful.
In the early years of my work, I loved the people and the diverse, dynamic, and intimate working environment. If you had asked me what my calling was at that time, I would have told you my calling was to work with this nonprofit for the rest of my life. If you had pressed a bit further and asked me “work on what specifically?”, I would have stuttered. Was it staffing more schools, leading schools, becoming a certified translator, or leading a mission team in a specific country like many other missionaries? Ehhh, the twenty-something me didn’t really know.
I did many different things for a season within the context of mission, but nothing stuck or took root. I was constantly in the transition, from one place or one type of ministry to another. Even though, every step along the way, I had carefully sought counsel from God and my leaders; sometimes looking at my peers and friends who had been working with the same team and place for years, I wondered if there was something wrong with me. Had I been faithful? Was I called to that ministry in the first place? Should I have stuck around longer when things didn’t work out as hoped?
When the idea of leaving the nonprofit first came to mind, I was startled. At that point, I had lived in Switzerland for almost two years, working at one of the training centers under the organization. I remembered my deep affection and commitment towards this international working environment in those early years. However, the longer I was around, the stronger the sense of unfitness I couldn’t shake off. After all those years, I still couldn’t find a project or a mission field where I was convinced of being “called.”
In my 20s, I was taught and believed that I needed to figure out my life calling once and for all. So I diligently sought God for a people group or a mission field to spend my life serving. I felt somewhat guilty when nothing stuck in the end. I remembered wandering around the fields in a Swiss village in my early-thirties, pondering and praying about my calling and life direction, feeling like a loser. What was I supposed to do with my life? Having to leave the nonprofit initially felt no less than a failure.
What I didn’t know then was that I was asking the wrong questions. I failed to understand what I do now that our life has different seasons, just like there are four seasons in a year. I had experienced spring, summer, autumn, and winter in my work with that mission nonprofit. I should have respected the changes of seasons in life instead of fighting against it nor feeling sorry about it. I shouldn’t have expected constant high productivity as if every season was summer. And when the winter inevitably came, instead of being insecure and anxious about it, I should have been ok with lying fallow.
However, what I did get right was that regardless of the unpleasant sense of failure and unknown of my future, I stayed open and honest with God. I chose to stick with God while nothing else stuck. My relationship with Him deepened. The reality was, God had already brought me to Switzerland, which was a crucial piece of my calling that I failed to realize.
Right about the time I was considering what the next was, there was an opportunity to study in a Chinese seminary in Spain, whose vision is for training pastors and church workers. After much prayer, I took it. I went to the seminary thinking I was going to be a pastor or pastor’s wife at a Chinese church somewhere in Europe. The summer before my last semester, I married a wonderful Christian man who was an engineer. After graduating with a master’s degree in theology, no church was asking me to be their pastor. I moved to Geneva, where my husband was working and started to build our family while both of us serving in a Chinese church there part-time.
Before I had the time to figure out what my calling “really” was, I had become a mom of two young children. Thus, the calling of being a mother and wife was clearly granted. But, was there anything more for me? What was I supposed to do with my past years of ministry experience? Would journalism and a theology degree I’d got have anything to do with my future at all?
I once heard someone said, if the future is not clear, sometimes you could find clues by looking back.
So I looked back, all the way back from my youth. I remembered I loved reading and writing from a young age and was pretty good at it. I remembered the reason for me to choose journalism as my major in university was that I wanted to use my writings for good. Years of working in an English speaking environment enhanced my English big time. So I joined an online writers’ group and started to write in English regularly on my blog. The more I write and post, the more I’m convinced that writing is the next right thing for me.
Back to the subject, have I finally found my calling? Well, I have stopped asking that question. But I can tell you this, I have found the assignment for me in this season—- writing, in addition to being a mom and wife, building our young family with my husband.
It turned out that I didn’t need to figure out my calling at the age of 25. Sometimes, things will turn out ok by themselves.
Are you seeking for your calling? Chances are there may be many things ahead for you to do, to grow and mature, and for your relationship with God to deepen.
Are you frustrated about some things that didn’t work out? It might be a different season you were in from what you thought. A tree in the winter won’t bear its summer fruit.
And, if you are trying to figure out what should be the next assignment, perhaps you could look back, ask “why” to some significant decisions you have made. There might be some clues awaiting.
Above all, take comfort in knowing this: God wastes nothing in our life. He can use all things for His glory.
Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.