Many of us consider our main line of work a “calling”: a vocation or station in life in which God has called us to be faithful. I have heard this terminology used by Christians throughout my life. “I feel called to be a preacher,” one person might say. Or “I think God is calling me to work with the homeless downtown,” says another. And sermon after sermon, I have heard discussed Moses’ calling to lead Israel to the Promise Land, or Jonah’s calling to preach to Nineveh, or Paul’s calling to take the Gospel to the Gentiles.
Callings, it seems, are God’s way of telling us where to go and what to do when we get there.
Christians often refer to singleness or marriage in terms of a calling. I have often confided in friends about my disappointment about being single. Some have assured me that “this too shall pass,” and God will one day call me to marriage. My Roman Catholic father, however, has told me that many are called to be celibate for the rest of their lives and that singleness, like marriage, is a gift from God. I did not like either answer. It only left me confused about my own situation, longing to make sense of God’s calling for me to be currently single, a position I do not feel called to.
A slight notion of an answer came to me this past summer.
In July I worked as a volunteer for the second consecutive summer at an English camp in Europe. I love to travel. That’s why I chose teaching as my profession, because it is a marketable skill that allows me to travel anywhere in the world or leaves me with huge chunks of time to go places. Thus, when the chance came for me to travel back to Europe — I jumped at the opportunity.
Before I decided to go on the trip, though, I was feeling the weight of my singleness crushing me. I felt depressed, still searching for a reason why I was single when many of my friends had married and some of them had started having children.
Maybe God wanted me to travel overseas, I wondered. I have been told by well-intentioned people that I should move overseas if I felt the first inkling to go, because I am young and single. Once I have a family, the chance to go would become severely limited. Further, I had only worked at my current school for a couple of years and lacked confidence in my actual contributions to the teaching program there. So I looked at this summer as a chance to explore the possibility of moving to and teaching in a foreign country.
Yet from the moment I agreed to return to Europe, my ideas about my call to singleness began to change at the very school I felt so distant from. The remainder of the school year had gone so well. I developed close relationships with colleagues and some students and their families. Opportunities for organizing events and leading class trips had sharpened my leadership and organizational skills. In the fall, my cross-country team received third place in our athletic conference, and I completed a workshop at a teachers’ convention in October on teaching film. I received an award by the yearbook staff at the end of the year for my contributions to the school — a major feat for someone who only worked there three years. Finally, I have begun to do research in curriculum and instruction to help improve the quality of teaching at my school.
At church, I became a small group leader and became more involved in the ESL ministry on Saturday mornings.
Thus, I had become a more influential individual within the various communities in which I worked.
My trip to Europe extended my understanding of God’s calling to singleness. I developed an illness at the beginning of the trip. It was nothing serious, but it did help me realize that moving overseas would not eradicate the daily problems we all face. I still got sick. My teammates helped me get to a doctor; they encouraged me and prayed for me. Therefore, I needed community as a vital part of staying healthy.
In the States, I need my church to stay spiritually healthy. My job allows me to make an income to survive. It also is a people-centered job. Community seems to be the answer to my misunderstanding of what it means to answer God’s calling to when or where He wants me to go.
Christ did not set up a kingdom of individuals. Though we all contribute to the health of the body in our own way, Jesus calls us to love the Lord our God with all our being and to love our neighbors as ourselves. I can do so as a single teacher — for now.
Maybe God will call me overseas.
Maybe He will call me to be married.
But God’s calling doesn’t have to be this vague expression to make sense of whatever or wherever or whenever the Lord has me serve Him. My calling should be about people to invest in and be available for them to invest in me.
Christians — single or married — are called to be invaluable to the communities we are in. We are to work gracefully and serve others lovingly to the point that if we were to leave that community, we would be missed.
A calling isn’t about where or what or when — it’s about the people along the way. They are the calling God has asked us to answer.
Stephen Parish describes himself as an eclectic — some would say eccentric — sort of person. He is a high school English teacher who enjoys watching movies more than reading books. He grew up in Wilmington and now lives in Durham, N.C., where he likes to hang out with friends, enjoy good food, participate in church, practice with a swim team, and write for his blog. Stephen’s love for literature and stories allows him to see the Bible as not only God’s Word but also a work of beauty.
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