When Story Informs Calling: A Very Personal Account

When you read the sages on calling, you understand how important it is to understand your story. Your story leaves clues to who you are, where you’ve come from, and where you are going. If you ignore your story, you leave a big piece silent that is meant to be speaking about your calling.

In the spirit of story, I’m going to share a very personal one that may help to explain why we’re shifting to a more Christianly approach to our work. As I announced in a previous blog, our work around life calling is coming under the Christian Life Calling Institute and you’ll start to see more of these changes.

We know this approach isn’t for everyone and that is okay.

The Long Dark Slide

When I was a senior in college, I began getting depressed. The incident that incited the depression was a breakup. I had gotten engaged and after honest reflection, realized it was a wrong decision, and I broke it off.

In the following weeks, I asked myself a lot of questions like:

  • What led you to get engaged to someone you didn’t want to marry?
  • Do you really know what you want?
  • What’s important to you?

I realized I couldn’t answer any of these questions. This led me to a crisis of identity—the sense that I didn’t know who I was—and instead of living my own life was living for the approval of others. I saw my life as a series of decisions I made based on other peoples’ preferences, designs, and expectations.

Of course, no one forced me into their ways, I observed and acquiesced because I didn’t know any better.

My lack of knowing myself and my clinging to the ways of others and their positive regard for me, is what led to my depression. It started as an occasional dark feeling accompanied by the sense of falling and impending dread, and then these feelings became more regular.

To cope with the darkness and dread, I started drinking, first occasionally and then more often. Eventually I was drinking in my room almost every night, trying to escape from the downward momentum pulling me. I started smoking cigarettes to alter my mood.

Of course, I did all this in private. I had to uphold my good boy image while on the inside I was caving.

I don’t remember when the suicidal thoughts started, but they came fast and furious. I wanted to escape from myself, but how do you escape from yourself?

One night when my roommates were out, I watched a movie about a man who was dying. His community came around him to say goodbye and the thought occurred to me – probably if I was dying no one would care. I fell to the floor in tears and anguish, I had never felt so alone.

I called my parents and said I needed help; a few days later I dropped out of college and checked into a Christian mental health program.

New Way of Thinking

This program probably saved my life. For me, the key to my recovery was learning about my identity in Christ. I had been a Christian for a few years already, but at the program, I really learned what it meant to be in Christ.

  • That in Christ, I’m free from condemnation
  • That in Christ, I can’t earn or perform myself into his love
  • That in Christ, I’m a son of God forever
  • That in Christ, I’m as loved sinning as I am serving

This took the pressure off from having to be the golden boy, the people pleaser, the perfect one. I was secure in Christ despite my attempts or accomplishments or acquiescing with others. It meant living by grace and not works and it changed everything.

Of course, this transition didn’t happen overnight, it takes time to work truths into your system, for mindsets to change, for behavior and reactions to be altered. But it was a great start.

When I returned to college, I was doing much better. I saw a counselor regularly and continued to learn. I couldn’t shake my smoking habit, but I didn’t want to die anymore, so this was good. Overall though, I wasn’t really thriving.

An opportunity came to attend a Christian conference. My parents were going, and they invited me to go with them. This conference would be out of my comfort zone, but I knew I needed something different. Sometimes if you want something different, you must do something different.

When I walked into the conference, I was immediately uncomfortable. There were people worshipping with their hands in the air, there was a woman preaching on stage, there were people up front being prayed for. None of these practices were familiar.

But I had traveled all this way, so I told myself to keep an open mind.

New Way of Feeling

Suddenly a man in front of me turned around and said, “Son, the LORD has a word for you, do you want to hear it?”

“Umm yeah sure,” I answered, more out of surprise than anything.

He put his hand on my shoulder and shared a message with me. I could not believe my ears. This was an intimate message, one that touched me in a very deep place. It’s like he had read my journal over the past year and was responding to the questions, longings, doubts, and fears I had written down.

I had never felt so seen, heard, and loved before. But I knew it wasn’t this man who had seen me, it was God. God had been in my room when I was drinking alone; God had seen me covering up the cigarette smell so others wouldn’t know; God had heard my plans of ending my life.

And God had been there when I checked into the hospital. Now he sent this messenger to let me know he wanted something different for me. Wow!

At the end of the service, they invited us up for prayer. I must admit, I was still a bit skeptical of some of these things, but God had really shown up, so I decided to trust him. I stepped toward the person praying, she whispered a prayer, and then it happened.

I felt incredible weight on my shoulders, my knees buckled, and I fell backward (no one was touching me). Waves of heat cycled throughout my body. A deep peace settled over me. Jesus was foremost on my mind.

Common sense said to get up, self-consciousness said I must have looked silly, but I didn’t care. I was having an encounter with God.

It is here that I must quote from “Gentle and Lowly” by Dane Ortland, because it helps to explain what was going on:

“It is one thing, as a child, to be told your father loves you. You believe him. You take him at his word. But it is another thing, unutterably more real, to be swept up in his embrace, to feel the warmth, to hear his beating heart within his chest, to instantly know the protective grip of his arms. It’s one thing to hear he loves you; it’s another thing to feel his love. This is the glorious work of the Spirit.”

Through both the prophetic message and the prayer, the Holy Spirit was helping me to feel the heart of Christ. Months earlier I was learning the heart of Christ, now I was feeling the heart of Christ.

A few days later at another prayer time, I would be delivered instantly from nicotine addiction, and when I returned to college from the conference, my heart was so alive with the love of Christ, that my friends didn’t know what to do with me.

I really was a different person. When you look at the calendar of days, you’ll see that this extraordinary day at the conference, when I felt the love of Christ, was one year exactly to the day that I checked into the mental hospital.

God was with me on both days!

Reason for the Story

I tell this story to explain why I cannot teach life calling without Christ. I just don’t think it will be the fuller picture or as helpful if we teach calling apart from Jesus.

There would be some:

  • who think the missing piece in their lives is their calling or sense of purpose;
  • who think God will start loving them once they start doing that big, amazing thing;
  • who think they’ll finally be acceptable or perfect or secure if they settle into their “life’s work;"
  • who position themselves as the hero of their story or the center of their calling

I don't want to be part of the problem. Doing the above may puff you up for a season, but you'll find it is chasing after the wind.

Truth is, Christ offers us the real way to be human—spirit, soul, and body—and this is what I found in some patients at the hospital and people at the conference, and what I hope to find with others at the Christian Life Calling Institute.

How is your story informing your calling?

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