Do you know what has been googled more than 403 million times?
The question: “What is my calling?”
Millions of people are asking what they are on Earth to do.
Discovering our purpose is a continual process, filled with twists and turns, surprises and setbacks, joy and sorrow, monotony and boredom.
The search for purpose starts young.
When I was little, I was convinced my calling was to play basketball for Duke University. My mom nurtured this call, enlisting me in the local YMCA basketball team, full of young women who would go on to win state championships at every level.
Unfortunately, we learned that basketball was not in my wheelhouse, despite the fact that I grew to be over six feet tall. The only thing I learned at the YMCA was how to function in a team and survive the humiliation of failing at something (#lesson).
However, my mom kept creating opportunities for me to discover my skills (tap dance—nope; music—yes; science—ew; friendship—yes; cleaning—nope; leadership—yes), develop maturity, and make decisions for the future.
Our desires tend to shift over time as we experiment, learn, and transform. Similarly, we are responsible (to the best of our ability) to create space for our children to discover what they love, and are gifted to do, as they grow.
In parenting, I think it’s helpful to remember that calling—our own and our children’s—is a lifelong process of three things: discovery, development, and decision.
These three processes can help us nurture our personal calling as we also cultivate the unique gifting of the kids in our home.
While basketball wasn’t my speed, there were hints of my purpose, even as a little girl.
My great-great aunt Fairy raised me in the church, and every Sunday we prepped the building for the congregation. After the service, we visited people in the neighborhood who were sick, or lonely, or in need.
Growing up with two working parents, we were the minority in our daycare, and I watched my mom value all people regardless of their gender, economic status, culture or race. They all received the same respect and opportunity.
In school, I had a wonderful creative writing gift that teachers nurtured and coached, and writing has been a through line in my life since I could craft sentences. I had no idea at the time, or even throughout my early twenties, that I would go on to become a full-time writer, with a passion and purpose for justice and race relations, who is still serving in the church.
My jobs have changed over the years (sometimes the day job funds the dream job—hello), but the calling remains the same.
So, what am I saying?
Be open to remembering what you loved as a child.
- What makes you come alive?
- What are you naturally good at?
- Who helped you uncover skills and talents, and how did they do that?
How can you pay attention to the same things in your child?
Maybe they start moving every time they hear music, or have a knack for building blocks or legos, or love helping or serving alongside you, or come alive when they connect with other people.
These small things can point toward their calling.
Use your words to encourage them; use affection to inspire them; create windows of opportunity for them to do that thing more. Encouragement, affection (high-fives, hugs, fist bumps), and opportunity form the secret sauce of discovery.
I believe development is our seasonal approach to calling, as it deals with our present-day reality, character, and integrity, and undergirds our overall purpose and capacity to make wise choices.
Our living situation, relationships, finances, job, hobbies, and pursuits are responsibilities we handle daily that pave the way for our future and create positive and negative situations for growth and maturity. When we neglect what we are responsible for, we limit our ability to step into our calling.
Sure, there are seasons where we hate our job, or seasons where money is tight, or where we have little time or inspiration to work on our creative gifts or spiritual life, but how we respond to our current circumstances determines our development. Do we honor our role at work, keep safe boundaries (which sometimes means leaving), and trust that better days are ahead, or do we gossip, manipulate, and give up on our dream?
Do we live generously, within our means, or go into debt and buy things we don’t need (to impress people we don’t like)? Do we take the five minutes we do have to work on our creative gifts or spiritual life, or do we keep going for weeks and months without acknowledging our need for an outlet to express and connect because “we don’t have time”?
Responsibility develops our character, and character sustains our calling.
Kids are the same.
Mine are five and under, so while we are encouraging their process of discovery, we also need to make sure they learn to walk, go to the bathroom, and eat nourishing foods. (Okay, okay, frozen waffles, macaroni and cheese, and chicken nuggets are the only things our two boys will eat.)
We hope to model and teach them to speak with kindness, love people, clean up after themselves, and learn how to engage with God on their own and in our faith community. They need development, and our help, in the daily process of growth and maturity so, as they prepare to do what they are called to do, they will have the kind of character necessary to sustain that calling.
So, we discover our gifts and talents that point toward our calling, we develop our character through our current responsibilities, and then we make decisions.
We’ve each been created with an incredible mind to think, to reason, and choose a way forward in every situation—big, small, and everything in between. Sometimes, we want an audible voice, or a sign from heaven, before we decide to do anything, but I think God is a good Father, who gives us the freedom to choose our best life.
Now that I have kids, I see this even more clearly.
If our boys decide to be garbagemen, engineers, or musicians, if they go to college or they don’t, if they travel the world or stay in the same city for their whole lives, if they get married or not, we want to bless them, and love them, and walk alongside them.
I think God’s the same way: he’s loving and gracious and blesses us while we choose.
He may withhold a gift so it helps us and doesn’t hurt us, if we are not ready or not mature enough to handle it, but he’s with us always, whatever we choose, and wants to see us using wise judgment to choose a life we love.
Training our children in wisdom is one of the greatest gifts we can give them.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I am tempted to use fear and control to get my kids in line, and sometimes I do. But, for the majority of the time, I want to use love and free will to train our sons to think and choose wisely for themselves.
Even preschoolers need the power of choice to understand that they have control over their lives, emotions, thoughts, and bodies. Just like us, they need to be able to say what they want, think and feel, develop safe boundaries and relationships, and to listen to their instincts. (Well, mostly, because sometimes my son’s instincts make him whack his brother in the head or jump off the top of the slide at the park.)
Anywho, we’re training them to be responsible and make good choices now so that, as they grow in stage and age, they will continue to discover, pursue, and walk in their callings. We champion the power of choice by modeling it ourselves, by asking questions, and by providing opportunities for our children to exercise judgment.
Even if it’s red socks or blue socks, the power of choice is critical to our calling.
One more reminder
You don’t have to have a million dollars and access to everything in order to nurture calling in your family. Local resources, libraries, parks, YMCAs, and simple tools inspire creativity.
In your life and in the lives of your kids, I hope you enter the processes of discovery, development, and decisions, trusting that the Lord will lead you, and the incredible humans he has entrusted you with, with grace and peace.
You’re incredible, my friend, and likely doing better than you think you are.
“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” —Harold Whitman.