Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Life That Has Your Name On It

"Vocational loneliness runs counter to what we intuitively seek for our lives—the comfort and safety of family, the buffer of friendships, the distractions of work. Will these all be taken away? Not necessarily. But you’ll discover that family, friendships, and the distractions of work are not enough to sustain you in your personal vocational journey into God. Instead, there will come a time when you will find yourself taking your relationship with Jesus more seriously, and come face to face with the life that has your name on it and no one else’s." 
--Mary Sharon Moore MTS

Vocational loneliness conforms us to the image of Christ....and that transformation takes time 
and is ongoing.

As I've written about this topic I've come to realize so many people experience a vocational loneliness of some type: caregivers, pastors, priests, nuns, rabbis, chaplains, medical personnel, missionaries, teachers, corporate management, social workers, counselors, "creatives" and leaders in various fields. It is anyone who chooses to step out of the norm into a life of service. The list is endless. Your comments and stories have been an encouragement to me.

My calling is part of my DNA, so deeply entwined in me that it cannot be unraveled from the whole of me. I'm conscious of that fact when I look back at decisions I made when I dated before my marriage to Rich. I knew deep down where I was headed and eventually knew who would be pursuing the same path I was on. That made for some difficult choices at times for someone who was in the late teens, early twenties. But even at that young age, my calling could not be denied. I am so grateful to be sharing life with a man who has the same values and pursuit in life.

Being alone in vocational calling gives us an opportunity to re-examine our motivation and direction in life. Without periodic re-examination we can quickly lose our way and miss the purposeful life we were destined to live. 

As I look ahead to 2016 I'm thinking about these things:

  • Don't begrudge where we are in life and ministry even if it is outside our comfort zone. Remember our calling and take heart knowing God is faithful.
  • Always seek community. We need it. It may not be our ideal, but it will fill a void we feel and possibly lead to new things. It will also encourage others.
  • Embrace the solitude we experience as a learning experience and ask God to reveal more of Himself to us...always a plus and life-changing.
  • Pursue joy in our circumstances. Thank God constantly for who He is and all that He is in our lives no matter what we are experiencing. Take time to enjoy the good things happening around us. Spend time doing what you love.
  • Anticipate adventure and discovery along the way knowing God is always at work in us. We don't know what the future holds. This is not a time to fear the unknown, but to expect new and good things from God.

"The difficult places in life give us the great opportunity to really know and trust God.  But, this requires time. It requires diligent waiting and seeking. Psalm 27:13-14 says, “I am still confident of this:  I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”  It’s in this place of waiting and seeking that we really come to know God. And, it’s from this place of deepest knowing that flows the deepest trust." --Pastor Ron Salsbury.   Photography: Sheryl Bullock, copyright 2015

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

When loneliness leads you into vocation - Sheila's story

This state of desolation—manifested through a deep sense of loneliness—is all pervasive in all societies and situations today now more than ever!  However, we are a people of hope. “Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth!” 
Fr. Ed Broom

Despite careful planning, the expectations Sheila and her husband had for their move to another city over 2,000 miles away, didn't pan out. Once the move was completed everything seemed to unravel. Not only did their expectations in their new town not come to fruition, but Sheila's cancer returned. And after a negative experience with a new oncologist, she added "incompetent medical community" to her long list of complaints.

Looking back she realizes her perspective was skewed and warped in so many ways. She was convinced there was nothing about her new surroundings that had any positive merit. This attitude trapped her in a downward spiral which she now refers to as a "spiritual desolation."

She was trying to adapt to a new town and grieve the loss of the familiar and friends left behind at the same time. She felt very alone and a local support system was no where to be found. Fear crept in and took up residence. She didn't want to live like this.

At some point Sheila realized she was sowing seeds of bitterness in her life. That realization was a wake up call for her. She said "I recognized I was coming against my own faith." Sheila began to ask the question, "What is the purpose of loneliness?" While there are no easy answers for that one, just admitting the loneliness was the first step for her. By asking that question, she began looking for new seeds she could sow to replace the bitterness that had taken root.

Sheila began to look around her at people who were in great need. A compassion for them slowly began to grow in her.

During this time Sheila created an art journal and over an 18 month period of time she filled it with pictures along with words and phrases she wanted to be symbolic of her new thinking. Each page in the journal represented progress toward a changed mind. "It gave me a visual reminder that I was moving forward," she said. She was now looking around her for opportunities where she could minister to others. Gradually, the bitterness went away as she took steps to live out her rediscovered faith in demonstrative and tangible ways.

One of the other things that was very instrumental in her healing was reading a book called, "Pursue the Intentional Life," by Jean Fleming. Sheila said that while reading the book, "I saw there was another way to live. I saw the neediness in my soul and released it to the Lord. But that process took awhile! Until I let go of having my own needs met first, I couldn't offer the soil for the seeds of the author's wise words to be sown. As I gradually began to plant the seeds in obedience and faith, the Lord watered and the healing began."

Sheila relinquished her unfulfilled expectations and came to accept that God is in charge of all of it. Some of the difficult things in her life and community have not changed, but her attitude and purpose have.

While Sheila's story is not one of intentionally choosing vocational calling as part of the move, she now chooses to live in her calling. God is using her in ways she never imagined. Although it has not been easy and she still deals with loneliness at times, she has grown into someone who chooses to actively live in hope and joy.

She says, "I'm not looking for a friend any longer. Just give me a place to serve."

James 1:2-6 "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. (New International Version)

(This is the 3rd post in a series on vocational loneliness. You can begin reading through the series here.)

Photos:  plant - Aliaksei Matsiushkou
             pencils - Bershadsky Yuri