“The Celtic idea of pilgrimage was different. . .They set out directionless into the wild or let their coracles drift wherever the currents took them. Pilgrimage for the Celt was an act of voluntary exile, leaving the comfort and security of home to be in complete abandonment to God. Any benefit to them wasn’t waiting at the end–it was found along the journey.” (The Making of Us, pp. 114)
When life doesn’t go as planned, we often feel directionless. We feel as if our calling and identity have vanished and left us wandering aimlessly. Sheridan Voysey understands this feeling and addresses these moments of wandering in his own life. As he chronicles his pilgrimage through northeast England, he describes these periods of waiting as opportunities.
In today’s world, we tend to think of our calling as our identity, or at least as part of it. We define ourselves by what we do and the goals we strive for. When plans change and roles shift, these methods of defining ourselves crumble. We discover that our identity needs a stronger foundation. Sometimes this loss of direction helps to put us on the right path. In losing ourselves, we have a chance to find contentment in God alone. Our exile to self is an opportunity to discover who God made us to be.
Identity Apart from Calling
“Being an author and broadcaster is a fine identity–as is being a builder, artist, mother, teacher, or something else all together. But only one remains when the rest are stripped away. . . Can I be content as a child of God, before any career-based identity? The truth is, I’m not sure,” (pp.28).
Sheridan Voysey recognizes our ultimate identity as being children of God. Our identity is found in Him because we are His.
So why is it so hard to believe this identity is enough? Why after realizing that we’re the children of God, beloved and sustained by the Creator of the universe, do we still feel the need to keep searching for more?
Perhaps our problem is we don’t consider all that this identity entails.
As his pilgrimage goes on, Voysey expands on the identity we have in Christ. He reminds us that God not only calls us His children but also His friends (93). God has created us to be, “coworkers in his world-crafting enterprise,” (pp.77). We are a people meant to be holy like Him (pp. 78-79). And in all this, our identity includes a purpose: to glorify God.
Voysey describes glorifying God as “revealing something of God’s character through what we say and do,” (pp. 159). Glorifying God when considered from this perspective becomes part of our identity. God has created us, chosen us, and redeemed us. As His children, we respond not by simply trying to reflect God but by living as His image-bearers.
Our new identity in Christ defines us by how God sees us and by how we then reveal God to others. God calls us beloved, holy, and valuable. And we in turn grow in love, goodness, and faith because He first loved us. We don’t find our identity in our purpose; rather, we find our life’s purpose in the identity God has already provided.
Calling Within Identity
What then does this tell us about our calling? We got the whole thing backwards in trying to define our identity by what we do. The remedy, then, is to flip it around. While who we are isn’t based on what we do, what we do should be based on who we are. When we look at our identity for our calling, we find several layers of purpose for our lives.
1. “Your first calling in life is to be with God,” (pp. 14).
Before everything else, God calls us to dwell in Him. This purpose lasts when all else fails. We don’t know what eternity holds. In heaven, we might not need teachers, or artists, or doctors, or evangelists. But if our vocations are moot points, fellowship with God will remain. And if fellowship with God will be our main purpose in eternity, shouldn’t it be so now?
2. “There’s only one real calling, whatever our job or career path–one great river from which all the streams of life flow: to love God and love others,” (pp.98).
As children of God, we have certain universal callings we all share. Firstly, we are called to love others as God loves us. From there, God calls us to bear fruit in the Spirit, growing in goodness, kindness, and patience. He calls us to walk out our faith, living out Scripture and acting as witnesses through our words and deeds. To love those standing before us and to strive to be more like Christ is a calling we can fulfill no matter where our paths take us.
3. “A calling had two main features: it was given by God, and it was done for the benefit of others. . . obedience and service–not self-fulfillment–were the motivators for one’s calling,” (pp.92).
When it comes to our vocational callings, we should still be led by our identities in Christ. If we want to follow God’s plan rather than our own, we need to be attentive to His promptings.
While God does at times give clear signs of His call, sometimes He simply uses opportunities (pp. 55). When we take the opportunities God places before us, we open ourselves to discover what His plan for our life is. We can also discover our calling through the gifts of Holy Spirit. “The gifts we have are given for a reason–to reveal God and help others in ways that are uniquely ours,” (pp. 149). Our vocational callings should be acts of obedience to God, just like the call to love others. This may mean a dream career, or it may mean a plain job we never imagined ourselves doing. But whatever it is, we can find fulfillment in it, knowing that we work unto the Lord.
“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Colossians 3:17)
At the end of the day, God alone provides our calling and identity.
When we find ourselves in the waiting phases of life, it’s easy to feel lost. Our plans are broken, our purpose unclear, and we’re left asking, “God, what am I supposed to do now?” In these moments, we need to return to the foundation. We need to remind ourselves of who God is and who He has called us to be. This moment of wandering and exile will pass, but while it remains, it is an opportunity.
We have the opportunity to find God along the journey.
(Click here to read the Making of Us, Part 1: Inevitable Imperfection)