Tuesday, April 17, 2012

On Finding One's "Calling"

I've been wrestling pretty seriously lately with the notion of my own "calling." I'm still genuinely trying to figure out what anyone means when they use the word "calling."As someone raised in evangelicalism, the word "calling" is thrown around pretty routinely often without much content given to the term. It leaves one trying to continually discern the will of God for one's life. This usually involves a level of anxiety and fear that one might somehow miss their calling. To make matters worse, there is always a lot of supernatural (and sometimes superstitious) language that couches the word "calling" in these sorts of conversations as well.

This notion of "calling" as typically construed includes a lot of pressure. Is this job, path, decision, or goal what I'm supposed to do? Is this what I'm good at? Does this utilize my gifts? And it is often assumed that there is one specific path to one specific calling. Given the fact that I'm presently trying to discern what my future holds in terms of studying theology, I've been asking myself these questions almost every single day. And at times, it feels like such a weight upon me and fear looms large that I'll simply miss it.

In some sense, this desire to "find the will of God" for one's life is the natural response of one committed to serving and following Jesus Christ. And in other ways, it is nothing short of narcissism (I'm speaking strictly for myself here and not pointing the finger at anyone). The process to discern one's calling can easily and quickly end up in patterns of thinking that feel as though the world will not continue orbiting around the sun unless you figure out God's specific plan for your life. And it also rests pretty heavily at times on thinking you are this particular and beautiful snowflake that God has predestined to change the world. There is always an element of pride involved in trying to figure out exactly what you are supposed to be doing for the Kingdom of God in this way that is wrapped up in mystical language of "calling." No matter the good intentions and motives, these dangers are ever-present.

All that is to offer some background for some relief I felt today. As I sat in the Barth seminar on this beautiful Tuesday afternoon, I was really blessed by a passage in Barth that denies the necessity for desire (eros) framed in a particular way. I realize that Barth was not speaking directly to the notion of finding one's own "calling." However, I think this specific passage is still very relevant to my current struggles and questions. Moreover, this passage highlights a theological understanding that is especially freeing about Barth's entire theology. I think it has to do primarily with the reality that reconciliation has already been accomplished and actualized in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. There is no possibility in the human subject to attain some new status, even in finding their own "calling." It is finished. Everything that can and should be said about me, any definition of who I am as a human being is already been spoken and achieved and defined in the person and work of Jesus Christ. In life, the Christian simply chooses or not chooses to recognize their true status and reality as one elected and reconciled by God in Jesus Christ. The truth that all has already been accomplished, and that there is no creative act for the individual offers a freedom from the burden of continually striving to figure out what God wants you to do with your life. I don't think this gives a person license for laziness or disinterest. Far from it. This posture of recognition offers the freedom to truly be the person that you actually already are -- a child of God who was elected by the free grace and love of God to be in communion with God and to offer a life of witness to the world that this is their same status. I don't think anything short of that can offer any sort of comfort as I continue to make decisions for the future and seek to follow the Lord in my speech and actions.
The truth is that he can never in all eternity find himself, his being as this self in the world before God and among his fellows, but chasing his own shadow, can and will only lose in all eternity, so long as he tries to will and desire and seek and strive after and achieve and maintain himself as the love in which man can respond to the love of God, in his liberation from this supposed necessity, his dispensation from this forward-seeking in need and desire, his release from the obligation of this chase in which he is both the hunter and the hunted and which for this reason can only be utterly futile. Man can cease from this self-willing, and therefore from all the frenzied activity in which he can seek, yet never find, but only lose himself. For if the only meaning of life is that man must seek himself to find himself, he can only lose himself in this seeking, and life is meaningless. Christian love is his deliverance because the one who loves as a Christian gives up trying to save himself, to be his own deliverer. In Christian love a man can finally leave that circle of destruction, which is in the true sense a vicious cycle. And not become himself? Quite the contrary! It is only in this way that he can and will become himself. To renounce that seeking, to leave that circle, is indeed a necessary condition of Christian love. But positively this love is man's self-giving to God (not for what He can give, nor for the sake of some purpose that can be achieved with His help, but for God Himself), and his self-giving to his fellow (again, not for what he can give, nor for the sake of some purpose, but for the man himself). As this self-giving, the Christian love which is from God is man's response to God's own love. It is in this way that God loves man. He does not seek Himself, let alone anything for Himself, but simply man, man as he is and as much, man himself. And God does not in any sense fall short of Himself when He loves in this way. In this self-giving to man He is God in all His freedom and glory. If the love of man, as his response to the fact that God loves him in this way, itself consists in his self-giving, this certainly means that there can be no more self-love, no more desiring and seeking the freedom and glory of the self. But why, and how far, is this really the case? Simply because he has already found himself in great freedom and glory. What he cannot win by desiring and seeking, he has already attained, not in the power of his renunciation, but in the power of the self-giving in which he may respond to the love of God. He himself is the one who is loved by God. He himself is the one to whom God has given Himself in His Son, and gives Himself as He gives Him His Holy Spirit. He is cut off from eros-love, and taken out of that circle, by the fact that, loving as a Christian, he is already at the place which he was vainly trying to reach in the Icarus-flight and self-assertion of eros-love. There is no further point in erotic love. Eros is made superfluous by the agape in which man may find himself and therefore has no more need to seek himself. He himself discovers himself to be secure in his response to the love of God."

- Karl Barth, CD IV.2, 749-750.


Jason Goroncy said...

Thanks for this post Kait. It brings together nicely some things that I was chatting about with someone else this afternoon. I just wish that I had had IV/2 on hand ;-)

Keep up the great blogging!

E.Louise said...

Hi, I've been thinking about similar issues and stumbled upon your blog. Thank you for this post, it's helpful to me.

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