I recently began watching a TV show about passengers on an airplane who, unknowingly, disappear for five years while in flight. While they believe only minutes have passed, their friends and families have been without them for five years. (It’s a bizarre series, but I suppose it’s my escape from the heaviness of local and national events.) The show is about how life unfolds when the plane lands and how the passengers and their families deal with the very different realities they have experienced over the past five years. The interesting thing is that the passengers experience callings, messages from God, which when answered, bring about a beneficial outcome to those around them. This got me thinking more deeply about callings from God.
It seems that God sends us “Big C” Callings and “little c” callings. At times, God calls us to something big, something that seems hard to accomplish. At other times, God calls us to things that are not quite so challenging. Each invitation is just as important as the other. One of my “Big C” Callings occurred almost 40 years ago, when God challenged me to a deeper trust. It came at a time when I was hurt and didn’t trust people in general and projected that mistrust onto God. It was a low time, but I heard God ask me to take a leap of faith that would change my life. Now that’s what I would call a major challenge, one that I accepted after lots of God’s graces were sent my way.
“Big C” Callings can often lead to “little c” callings. A colleague recently did something that hurt my feelings. My gut reaction was to storm away angry after lashing out. But I paused, took a deep breath, and prayed for understanding. I was able to walk away from a potentially bitter scene and eventually reconcile with that person. That moment of pausing to calm down was what I considered a “little c” invitation to live my bigger invitation to see God in all others.
Some callings take a lifetime to answer and challenge us, such as the call to forgive or the call to love as God loves. These invitations are more a way of life than a one-time invitation. The real test is in staying with the invitation and letting it take root over a lifetime. It can take years of prayer and perseverance to make progress in the right direction, but again, God’s abundant grace is always offered to help us.
Sometimes callings come in bunches, with a domino effect. Answering one call can open the door to hearing many others. For example, my response to God’s invitation to retire cleared the way to discerning new options about how I could serve God in my retirement.
When God invites us to something, we can accept, refuse, or procrastinate. It’s up to us. If we ask for the heart to know and follow God’s will in our lives, we can truly live a life of discernment, that is, a life in sync with God’s heart. On the other hand, we can miss God’s call completely. Even then, God is patient with us and will lovingly keep inviting us closer.
The fact is, we don’t need to return from a mysterious five-year-long plane trip to have a calling. God is always inviting us, recreating us, teaching us. It’s a lifelong journey of holy listening and discerning what we hear and feel. Following our callings takes faithfulness in prayer, letting go of our own agenda, and trusting that we never journey alone. God is always with us, no matter what the calling.