What is Your Calling?
“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet” is one of the most quoted and most useful definitions of Christian calling. It was written by Frederick Buechner, a minister, theologian, and popular writer who died on August 15, 2022 at the age of 96.
Having written 40 books, he was a favorite author of many people. In a 1996 interview, he said of his writing, "’When I started out writing novels, my greatest difficulty was always in finding a plot. Since then, I have come to believe that there is only one plot. It has to do with the way life or reality or God…. In my fiction and non-fiction alike, this is what everything I have written is about.”
The Larger Definition of Vocation (Calling)
His famous quote comes from his book, Wishful Thinking a Theological ABC, and is included in our book Live Your Calling. Here is the larger quote as he offers his definition of vocation, or calling:
“Vocation: It comes from the Latin vocare. to call and means the work a [person] is called to by God. There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of Society say, or the Superego, or Self-Interest.
There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of Society say, or the Superego, or Self-Interest.
By and large a good rule for finding out is this. The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done. If you really get a kick out of your work, you’ve presumably met requirement (a), but if your work is writing TV deodorant commercials, the chances are you’ve missed requirement (b). On the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leper colony, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you’re bored and depressed by it, the chances are you have not only bypassed (a) but probably aren’t helping your patients much either.
... The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
But what does this mean? We believe that “your deep gladness” refers to the God-given skills that energize you and bring you joy as you use them, and “the world’s deep hunger” refers to the particular needs you are enthusiastic about serving. For most people, it takes time and intentionality to discover their deep gladness and the needs they are passionate about meeting. It also takes a deepening relationship with the Lord to be able to discern the voice of God above other voices.
Enthusiasm comes from the Greek words “en” meaning “within,” and “theos” meaning “god.” We experience enthusiasm when the God-given design inside us connects with needs in the world. Your enthusiasm about meeting particular needs can be an important indicator of the real you, and of your vocational calling. Frederick Buechner’s writing helps us better understand what it means to be called by God in work and life.
Your “Deep Gladness” – Your God-Given Design
There are different ways to understand your “deep gladness”. One method is taking time to answer questions such as:
Who am I? What is my God-given design? What do I enjoy doing, what do I value, what motivates me, what brings me a sense of fulfillment and meaning? What gifts and abilities has God given to me to use in this world?
Another method is using specialized, proven career assessments. In our work as career counselors, we have helped our clients to identify their “deep gladness” by using career assessments. Some of these assessments are only available through certified career counselors. The assessments or what people often call career tests expedite the process of understanding their skills, values, interests, motivations, personality traits, and what they need in working conditions to thrive. Those assessment results represent the gifts God has given them, the gifts they get joy and energy from using or what we believe Buechner is describing as their “deep gladness”.
The “World’s Deep Hunger” - Becoming Need-Focused
Our human nature encourages us to focus on our own needs. God, however, calls us to direct our attention to the needs of others. Needs come in all shapes and sizes. Every job meets some type of need. Ask yourself: What needs, issues and/or causes do I find compelling and desire to address in my work?
God can shoulder all the needs in the world, but he chooses to parcel out to each one of us enthusiasms for meeting particular needs in the world.
“Need,” as used here, refers not only to fundamental human needs for sufficient food, clean water, safe shelter, adequate health care, and so forth, but also to other things people lack that they desire or find useful, such as a need for a good education or recreational activities. A need can also refer to something required by animals or other living things. Veterinarians, for example, alleviate suffering and meet other needs of pets and livestock.
A key part of finding your vocational calling is discovering which types of needs you enjoy meeting. We experience a greater sense of purpose in our work and volunteer activities when we care deeply about the needs that we are serving.
Envisioning Your Deep Gladness Meeting the World’s Deep Hunger
Having done an inventory of your giftedness (deep gladness) and the needs of the world that you have an enthusiasm to help meet (the world’s deep hunger), now comes the step of connecting the two parts by envisioning how your gifts can meet needs in the world.
It would be nice if God would send us his vision for our life via email, text or a supernatural revelation – spelling out the actions that we are to take in step-by-step detail. And it would be even better if that message included an ironclad guarantee that the vison for our lives would be risk free and resulted in financial success.
The problem with this expectation is that God doesn’t usually choose to work this way. Rather, we see in the lives of great people of faith, the journeys of our clients, and in our own lives that God often calls his people by creating a mental image or compelling idea of how our gifts can be used to meet needs in the world. The vision gives enough direction for us to step out in obedience and faith, but it doesn’t give all the details or provide guarantees about the outcome.
Whether you have a vision or not, exploring different ways to use your gifts in meeting needs in the world is an action step that can lead to discovering your calling.
A vision of what God is calling you to do may start as an interest, a tiny idea, or a fleeting thought It can be inspired by a variety of catalysts:
It might be need-driven like Michael who had an interest in Bible translation and explored how he could use his computer skills in that area. He now works at Wycliffe Bible Translators translating the New Testament for different language groups. They call themselves “technicianaries”.
Or gift-driven, like Laura who loved to write and tried out writing articles for her church before being hired to write and edited for Christian organizations and publishers.
Or it could be experience-driven like Barbara who went through chemotherapy and wanted to help other women who are dealing with difficult life issues. Barbara graduated with a degree in counseling and went on to counsel and coach women individually and within seminars and workshops.
Any of these catalysts (need-driven, gift-driven and experience-driven) can lead toward making the connection between your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger.
Exploration and Reality Testing
The connections that you make using the catalysts (gift-driven, experience-driven and experience-driven) may lead you to having a few visions of what God might be calling you to do in the world at this time in your life. Your next step would be to reality test those options. Here are some exploration/reality testing strategies:
- Reality testing strategies include reading about occupations that are meeting the types of needs that you are interested in helping to meet. One of the best online resources to use is the ONET which is published by the US Department of Labor. The ONET has a search box where you can list key words or occupation titles. For example, if you are interested in helping people to get out of debt, you could search using keywords like “money” or “debt”. It will then show you jobs that relate to those keywords. Each job listed will include a description of the tasks, salary, education needed and much more.
- A second strategy is to gather information online. For example, if you wanted to help people who are in debt you could Google “careers that help people manage money”. In the results you would find articles such as “Cash-Related Careers: 10 Jobs that Deal with Money”. You could also Google, “a day in the life of someone who helps people manage money”. The results would show you videos of people describing a typical day in their work.
- A third key strategy is conducting informational interviews which involves talking to people who are in jobs that are of interest to you. It involves asking questions such as “What is a typical day like on the job?”, “What do you most enjoy about your job?”, “What do you enjoy least?”, “What steps would I need to take to do the job you do?”. You can find people to information interview on LinkedIn.com, through associations and from referrals from people you know.
All of these steps will help you to determine your Vocation – your calling. And of course, for Christian men and woman, prayer needs to be an integral part of the discovery, exploration and reality testing process of discovering and living your calling. God can be counted on to direct you as you seek to use your gifts in meeting needs that He has given you an enthusiasm to help meet. We are thankful for the all the needs that Buechner met through his writing and his definition of Vocation.
If you are seeking help with the process of finding your vocational calling, we invite you to check out our career counseling and job search services.
© Article copyright by Kevin Brennfleck and Kay Marie Brennfleck, ChristianCareerCenter.com, ChurchJobsOnline.com, ChristianJobFair.com, CareerFitTest.com and LiveYourCalling.com. All rights reserved. The above information is intended for personal use only. No commercial use of this information is authorized without written permission.