I found myself sitting down in a dining area of my alma mater this past Spring Break. Across from me sat a former professor of mine who I have been honored to count as a friend, advisor, and confidant throughout the course of my four years there. Seeing that I was in the area nearing the end of my first year at seminary, we decided to reconnect to see where each of us found ourselves before both of us ran off in different directions.
I found him leaving his office on his way toward the dining area. His back was turned, but the khakis and polo shirt betrayed his identity even though I hadn’t seen his face yet.
As he turned from locking up his office, I noticed that he had grown out his facial hair from the last time I had seen him, so that his glasses seemed to rest just over a slightly tousled beard. I did a double-take. The last time I had seen him, he had been more convinced of the clean-shaven persuasion. Time had certainly passed over the course of the past year.
He, on the other hand, smiled as though meetings between the two of us nowadays were still a pleasant regularity. Gesturing down the hall, he asked, “Shall we?”
Accepting his offer, I joined him as we made our way across the campus, shooting the breeze until we had gotten our drinks and sat down in the far corner of the room.
“So,” he said after taking a sip from the coffee he had ordered, “Tell me about Candler. What have you learned?”
“Well,” I started, “Graduate school certainly is a different animal from that of undergrad.”
He nodded, smiling. The steam from his drink condensed on his glasses, concealing his eyes for a moment. I paused, waiting for him to wipe them off. Doing so, he gestured for me to continue.
“You know,” I said, “I think seminary’s taught me within and without the classroom that I’ve got a lot more growing to do.”
“You’ve gone kayaking or canoeing on occasion, right, sir?”
He chuckled. “I was an adrenaline junkie for the first half of my life. Still am in some respects! Of course I’m familiar with kayaking and canoeing.”
“Well, almost 95% of the time, I sense that my life has been on this river on which I have been kayaking. And I’ve been making progress, but for the last two years, beginning with senior year, I feel like I’ve been pulled out of the current and have watched a bunch of friends and peers get swept downstream with chances to work in churches and other amazing ministries. I’m glad for them. I just wonder whether Jesus has left me in academia. Sure, classes have been great and thought-provoking, but I can’t shake the feeling that I’m missing out on what I’m meant to do.”
My professor and mentor fell silent as he chewed on what I was saying. After a few moments, he asked, “What do you think you’re supposed to do?”
“Work in a church, hopefully.”
His eyes flicked up from the floor, locking with mine. “Why?”
“Because that’s what I’ve been doing for the last four years of my life studying for. Because I feel ready to take on the challenge of a ministry position and yet nothing seems to be coming my way.”
I paused. “Because… that’s what I’m called to do? This May will mark the fifth year I have studied ministry in particular. It all just seems so anti-climatic and I can’t help but feel disheartened.”
Shaking his head, he replied, “You’re conflating calling and vocation. A vocation enables a person to fulfill their call. But having your vocation be your call in every season isn’t exactly guaranteed.”
I took a sip of coffee. It seemed so straightforward, and yet, part of who I have trained myself to be resisted wholeheartedly embracing it in the moment. I think it’s because it’s hard for a person, place, or thing with a trajectory one way to change.
It’s possible. It’s just difficult based on the inertia we build up over time.
“Who knows,” he said, “Perhaps your ‘call’ in this season is to just be a student. Or maybe it is just to wait for wherever God leads. There are multiple ways to go kayaking, you know.”
We continued to chat for the rest of an hour. As the hour reached its end, he and I began walking toward a presentation he wanted to sit in on. As we reached the doors of the lecture hall, he paused and turned to say a last word.
“Don’t allow yourself to buy into the idea that calling is vocation. When options begin to foreclose, or you feel like you’re being left behind by your friends who have jobs in those areas, it can be easy to fall into despair and even doubt that you’re even supposed to be doing what you’re doing.”
I nodded as I turned to make my way across campus to meet up with someone else. It would be easy to accept the concept intellectually. The issue was more of a heart problem for me. I think it will take some work, but with God’s help, I can begin to reclaim some of the places in my heart that I have allowed weeds to take over.
Probably means I need to learn to be content with just floating along in life for a bit, trusting that things will work out one way or the other for the better.
I think, for a little bit of time, there’s good here too.