God leads us to our larger calling by walking with us as we listen and take small and often uncertain steps
I used to fret and pray on this question quite a bit: How does one know what we are called to do on this earth? For a time, I was paralyzed by the quandary that I didn’t know what it was God wanted from me. But other times, I would become frightened over the very idea that I could believe God had any plan for me at all; certain that my ego was in full take control mode and had run amok. Now, not so much.
Through daily prayer, meditation and journaling, I have slowly come to the realization that God does indeed call each of us, but our clarity on that calling is only known in retrospect. To understand our sense of calling we need to be prayerful and discerning. But most importantly, we must have the courage to act on what it is we feel called to do. If you are looking for a formula that works – or at least works for me - it is this: Pray. Discern. Act.
We may hear God faintly and ignore the nudge, believing it is our own ego needs being voiced. The Quakers have a simple and practical response to the question of whether it is God leading us or are we hearing just one of thousands of our own daily thoughts. Quakers start with the belief that God dwells within each person and guides us in big ways and in small. Quakers acknowledge that understanding God’s voice within is a challenge and one that can rarely be discerned with certainty in the moment. But it is here – in the moment of uncertainty - that the Quaker practicality takes over. If a Quaker believes he or she might, possibly, maybe be called by God, then the best thing to do is to act on the sense of calling. Act on it and don’t fret about the consequences. Act on it and see if the “way opens or closes”. If the way opens, then keep moving. If the way closes, then sit back and listen more deeply. It is only by acting on our sense of call that we ultimately understand its origin; whether it is God sent or ego driven.
I’ll share another insight with you. I stopped looking for the grandiose call from God; the one that I hoped would set my life on a straight and chosen path. Was I supposed to be an advocate on behalf of the poor? Was I meant to be an organizer and teach others how organizing brings power and only power brings change? Was my path to be one of spiritual guidance? Or was it none of the above and I was asked only to be a good father and good husband in my family and not worry about the rest?
I have now come to believe that God leads us to our larger calling by walking with us as we listen and take small and often uncertain steps. My eleven-month-old granddaughter has decided that it is more important for her to learn to talk than to walk. She can crawl in turbo mode to get where she wants to go and she can climb onto the couch, the window sill and any other place that will send her father and mother into a panic, but her concentration seems to be in learning to communicate. She knows one word which is “more” indicating that she is hungry and wants more to eat. But she thinks she can talk like a drivetime DJ with too much coffee as she jabbers away. She is the first child, so her parents believe she is the brightest and cutest child on earth and they encourage her to continue “talking”. They will laugh with her, talk back to her, let her know that what she is saying in her gibberish is just the most charming and insightful comment an eleven-month old could possibly make. By the actions and reaction of her parents, our granddaughter Ava is learning to be confident and bold in her mission to talk.
I believe God guides us in the same way. We are led, one step at a time. We are loved, encouraged and guided. And, we must follow our own desire, expecting that it is in sync with the desire God has for each of us.
I no longer wonder if I am being called by God. I know I am guided by God each day. My faith is not evidenced in hearing the call of God, but by my action to the call. A popular quote erroneously attributed to St. Francis of Assisi reflects well this approach to the call of God: “Preach the gospel at all times. And when necessary, use words.”
Michael Soika has been a community activist for more than 30 years working on issues of social and economic justice. His work for justice is anchored by his spiritual formation first as a Catholic and now as a Quaker.