You may have heard it said that survival is our strongest impulse. But consider this — if life has absolutely no purpose other than survival, then survival would be better understood as a cruel prison sentence. Because if life has no meaning or significance, then there can only be despair and disillusionment – making the mere subsistence of survival little more than a burlesque absurdity, ever mocking our very existence. So in this regard, it isn’t our survival instinct that propels us forward – it is the all-consuming belief that life must have purpose and meaning, and that the significance of our life is best found in the role we play within this greater purpose and meaning.
“The point of life isn’t just to live – but to live for something, definite” ~ Fyodor Dostoevsky. “I want to find a reason for which I can live and die” ~ Soren Kierkegaard. “I want to find the answer to the question, which underlies all other questions—what am I here for?” ~ Abraham Heschel. The constant undertow of the ocean that is philosophical thought is obsessed with this very question of why. And whereas, this question is expressly a teleological question, to be sure – it undeniably finds each one of us in our beds at night staring at our ceiling . . . distilling down to the question – “So, what am I supposed to do about it . . . what am I called to do?”
Now, there is no shortage of books offering various strategies and metrics for how you might determine what you’ve been called to do. Never mind that most of this advice maintains a modernity paradigm that attempts to pair your marketable attributes (gifts and talents) with a consumerist presupposition about what their value might be – all of which ends up gutting the whole idea of being called of any of its mystic faith quality . . . completely forgetting that being called inextricably requires an enigmatic voice that calls.
Nothing has so plagued my faith sojourn as much as this topic. Because as an artist you either enjoy the celebrity of popular acceptance, where your calling is unquestioningly validated. Or you are relegated to being the resident dancing monkey, capable of doing a few clever artistic parlor tricks, but not quite marketable enough to be considered a real calling. In other words, in a world where we ask one another — “So, what do you do for a living” . . . there isn’t much of a place for someone like me, convinced I’m called to do things which aren’t really measured by gainful employment and occupational prestige. No doubt this is why well-intentioned friends often have trouble understanding what motivates me.
But I’m convinced that our calling has far more to do with how God made us than the utilitarian value of what we can do. That being comes first – then the doing. Os Guinness offers us this insight “Calling is not only a matter of being and doing what we are but also of becoming what we are not yet but are called by God to be.” Which seems to be framing calling as more dynamic than static. In this respect, following our calling is inseparable from the process of becoming the person God is making us. Therefore, knowing your calling always begins with tuning into God’s presence in your life . . . because it is his presence in your life that becomes the substance of his calling on your life.
Here’s one of my favorite songwriters, Mac McAnally explaining the part that attitude plays in appreciating our calling . . .