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Doubt

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A vocation is something extremely personal – and therefore extremely difficult to discuss. Of all the criteria for selection, it is perhaps the most daunting one, because it leads to the question: where do I start? How do I start even contemplating, let alone explaining, a task of the utmost importance? How could Isaiah volunteer himself so eagerly to be a prophet of the Lord? Such certainty, such fire, such passion!

Not all who feel called are so eager to get to the front of the line. Thankfully(?), we also have, at the other end of the spectrum, the example of Gideon, who carefully checked he was not mistaken. He showed due diligence in examining his own calling.

The issue, however, with putting out a fleece, is that it is difficult to do so honestly. All signs are interpreted. Confirmation bias is a thing. And so there is a fine line between seeking to verify/infirm a sense of calling and searching for excuses not to follow it.

I have tried, over a few older blog entries, to explain the discernment process. Broadly speaking, to me (and it may be different to others), the assurance in my sense of calling stemmed from a deep feeling of peace whenever I considered the ministry. It felt “right”, in a way other potential plans just felt “OK, I guess”.

doubt

Obviously, a life choice cannot be based on a fuzzy feeling alone. There is a fair amount of testing and discussing involved, and, as these progress, there is bound to be good times and worse times. I’ve been blessed enough to have had a rather smooth ride of it; the setbacks being merely circumstantial or of little consequence. The flip side of that, of course, is impostor syndrome.

And boy, does it kick hard when left to grow unchecked! Here are a few things about doubt. While they were written with calling in mind, I believe they also apply to other decisions.

1. Doubt is self-feeding. Doubt, like a festering wound, will only grow larger when not confronted. Now obviously, there is usually an initial trigger (an event, a change in circumstances, …) but that trigger does not rationally account for the extent of felt doubt. And so it is pointless to try to get rid of the doubt by simply looking at what is not its root but merely its trigger.

2. Doubt is hard to discuss. Part of the reason for that is that the friends I would discuss it with have (probably) been supporting me in following the calling I now doubt. And now considering moving away from it feels like a betrayal of that support. But the main reason is that I won’t control the narrative of that discussion. If doubt is genuine, then the conversation could go in any direction. And that is a scary thing to get into. But – here’s the thing: (a) it would be foolish to let one conversation seal the decision; and (b) if that’s still too scary, there are strategies to avoid relinquishing that control altogether.

3. Unbridled support may actually feed doubt. If I don’t feel my work is praiseworthy, then supporting me for it will just make me doubt your previous support. Sure, it will feel nice and reassuring on the spot, but definitely not in the longer run.

4. Doubt is not shameful, although that’s how it may feel. Gideon doubted, both of his calling and of his own ability to meet the daunting challenge ahead. And he did feel some inadequacy in his double-checking (see the start of verse 39), but it was not counted against him

5. Doubt is not beaten by reason alone. There is no amount of justification that will make doubt go away. Taking a rational approach such as listing pros and cons may give temporary solace, but it will leave some hesitation: am I simply rationalising this decision? Or is it truly the right decision? Of course, rational thought and careful consideration is necessary to tackle doubt. But it should not be expected to be sufficient: a decision that only sits in the mind yet not in the heart and soul is not a solid decision.

6. Doubt is blindsided. Doubt is generally about weighing up two options and getting bogged down in the consequences of both of them. Over time, these two options become so prominent that any other possibility will be discarded out of hand. Because, having invested so much pondering over these two choices, there must have been a pretty good reason why other options weren’t considered… And yet, that’s just pride talking. Other options may be available, and that’s one of the reasons why discussion with many trusted friends is important.

Ultimately, though, doubt is difficult to deal with. And it’s good to remember that, if you are doubting your life plans, or even smaller decisions, second-guessing yourself, you are not alone. And that talking about it with trusted friends will help.

The nature of (my) calling

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A calling is a hard thing to articulate. It’s extremely personal, hard to describe, hard to explain – but harder still to dismiss.

Photo: floeschie, reused under CC license

And yet it is crucial to be able to do so; because if your calling is to the ministry, you will find people coming to you with a drive to test their own calling. Because you will want to explain to friends what you’re living. Because it will puzzle others. Because, ultimately, it is an awesome thing to share.

But the truth of it is, there appears to be no formula for callings; there is no constant in there. Which makes it incredibly hard to know in our minds as well as in our hearts that we are called; because there is no pattern to test our calling against.

Some callings are of an extraordinary, precise and unmistakable nature. S/Paul, on the road to Damascus, had a great and life-changing experience. Gideon was called out of a quiet life by an angel.
Some are more subtle. Samuel got called three times before recognising the Lord and his calling. Some, but not all, are made through people – Saul, Elisha are examples; and to an extent Gideon’s calling.
A lot of callings lead to massive changes in the lives of the called (both Sauls, Gideon, Elisha, etc.) but some happen to people who are already in the temple (Samuel).

The only constant is that once the nature of the calling was established and accepted, there was no doubting it. There was a strong resolve to do whatever needed doing to serve.

This is encouraging and daunting at the same time. Encouraging, because it means that if I commit to the ministry for life, it will be a deeply satisfying decision. Daunting, because it feels like there’s no getting out. A relief too, because there’s nothing I can do about it.

My calling wasn’t spectacular. It started out as a feeling last September – a series of tiny nudges in the direction of ministry; combined with a series of advertised opportunities to grow in that direction. When I reached the stage where I took it seriously, and prayed about it, that feeling was fed and grew. When I started going for the opportunities given to me, I felt a deep sense of satisfaction. My prayer turned from “Is this real?” to something akin to Samuel’s “speak, Lord, for your servant is listening”. And I’ve taken things one at a time since. I’ve shared this with close friends, and with my own Elis. At this stage, I’m serene and trusting that, if this is God’s calling for me, it will lead to the ministry. Like many, however, I still sometimes momentarily doubt whether I’ve not just made a massive mistake; but quickly realise that these are just insecurities about my own abilities, and am quickly brought back to the confidence in my calling.

If you’re in ministry or planning to go into the ministry, what was your calling like?

What would your advice for people who are feeling called (including me) be?