The Pilgrimage of Our Calling

by - 5:18 PM

The word ‘vocation’ is from the Old French and Latin word vocare and vocatio, which means ‘to call’.

In the pursuit of calling, perhaps one runs the marathon to find that the elusive ‘call’ is merely a journey through which one’s character is formed, one’s conviction is strengthened, and one’s courage is tested. For me, it is the voice of my Creator who calls me into the unknown, into what He knows I was made for – the call is to a journey of discovery, of delight, of daring. Unfortunately, or fortunately, it seems that the more youthful we are, the greater our propensity to imagine our calling as something we ‘attain’ – a place, position or state of being that we strain toward and ultimately ‘find’. We imagine that when we arrive that point, or close to it, we will be far better off and better fulfilled than we find ourselves in the present. Nothing can sometimes be further from that imagined truth.

Perhaps some spend years wandering because they never discovered or learnt the power of asking themselves the question, ‘What on earth am I here for?’ Others spend years in wishful wondering and yet not quite getting the answer, because maybe they haven’t found the courage or conviction to count the incalculable cost that they know deep down will be incurred if they should walk along that rickety bridge (and burn it after they’ve crossed into the unknown).

As a 24 year-old in the year 2018, I look back on the last 5 years and trace the convoluted laneways that led me on my present road. As a young person arrested by several unforgettable, unmistakable, redemptive encounters with God, a few of late that leveled my pride and exposed my self-deceptions, I have a faith – and a Person – that has carried me through all my wrong turns in the last few years of emerging into young adulthood and the discovery of my true identity, purpose, and yes, calling. Indeed, the purpose that you and I are made for is a very important thing to uncover. But in the last 3 years, I discovered the even more important thing: to know the Person that I was made for, because this knowledge is not about the head, but the heart – and it is of eternal significance. Once I find the answer – and the way of life – to that quest, then my identity, purpose, and my calling, will unveil and unfold itself as I walk in the path to become the person I was created to be – for the Person whom I was made for. I’m not talking about a life partner here; I am talking about my God. He is the Person, the One, the Lover, the Creator of my entire being. And I am not ashamed to say that if we desire to find our fullest meaning, vocation, joy, happiness, peace, and life, the key to ‘finding’ all of it is to meet the Source – the embodiment, the Life, the Person – that placed that desire for all these good and marvelous things within the very core of our being in the first place.

Isn’t it unexplainable? People run to money, fame, sex, power, drugs, idols, entertainment, careers, education, guns, food, projects, charities, and most definitely other people and everything under the sun to fulfill the vacuous hole in their souls. We make up religions and rules to make ourselves feel better about our wretched selves; we carry the burden of pride and the arrogance of the ‘self-made’ man through all our lives; we create facades, wear masks, and pretend to be different kinds of people for different conceited and fear-induced reasons; and, we are so worn and tired because of it. Still, we remain stubborn.

We do not want to lay down our defenses, cast aside our weapons, and admit our wrongs, fears, insecurities, guilt, and shame to the One who longs for us to know Him and to live in His grace, mercy, truth, and peace. We try to hide our sins, evade the hard questions, and most commonly, blame others. We are afraid to love and lay down the weapons of our hate or bitterness. Because deep down, we know that the True God desires for us to be free from our chains of addiction, unforgiveness, anger, malice, self-rule, and pride in our meagre attempts to be ‘good people’. We know that He aches for us to love our neighbor, the other ones who He created in His image. He calls for us to love our enemies, that we may become peacemakers and turn our warring factions into councils of justice. But we stumble on in the dark alleys, groping blindly for the truth we dare not face.

I can only speak for myself. My freedom came when I first lay down my burden of pride and self-righteousness. Yes, don’t we know the awful burden that pride is. It is the true bane of mankind. It is what causes wars and division; competition and disunity; racism and genocide. Yet it is an evil that we have clung onto relentlessly. It is truly a heavy yoke to upkeep your own reputation, and to do good without an internal grace that only God can gift us with. Since that day, I have many times had to re-lay-down my pride. It’s a thing we do again and again when we have come to meet the true humble nature of the God who is not far from us. The God who is a Father to us. Yes, us. We, the prodigal sons and daughters.

If you hate the idea of God, ask yourself why. Is it because of other people? Religious people? Liars? Deceivers? Controllers? Do you wonder if they have misrepresented the true God? After all, they are weak, fleshly, sinful, prideful humans. Think about it. It is prideful people who make false, lesser gods into their own vainglorious image – an image that breeds division, domination, false judgment, power struggles, and worst of all, fear. When we lay down our pride, we lay down our vainglory, our reputation, our man-made religion, our masks, our self-deception, our trickeries, and even our good deeds.

That, is when we can hear His voice – a still, gentle voice that beckons us to a quiet walk in the mountain, or by the river… to a place of encounter, a place where we find that we have always been known and loved, crafted in our mother’s womb, birthed into this world with a destiny that Satan has tried to rob and cheat us of ever since. But in that hidden haven of encounter, we find the infinitely better thing. Have you found it? Or are you still searching and sinking in the cold, murky waters of purposelessness?

When I experienced the grace of God, I suddenly was able to lay down not only my pride, but my fears, my strivings, my sins. No longer do I try to escape my addictions by making rules for myself or imposing stricter disciplines; no longer do I try to compensate for my flaws, failures or sins by doing good deeds with underlying conceit; after tasting His love and grace, now I am free to pursue Him, to run after all that is infinitely better and of eternity, to face down evil and pain and death with life in my spirit, because I know I am forgiven, cleansed, and empowered in His love to choose His way, not my own, and not the way of death. You cannot change the addict by condemning him, you transform him by loving him. That is what God did for me through the spirit-convicting words of the self-sacrificing, love-your-enemies message of His sent-one – Jesus.

Before this encounter, I was lost, and I didn’t yet know it. I was in pain because of sin and self-centeredness, but I tried to hide it. When someone is in that state of self-focused obsession, they are fearful of what others think, because they don’t know they are loved and known by God. Sometimes addicts are unable to be free because they cling on stubbornly to their pride – that stubborn lie of the devil that I don’t need God’s grace, that I should hide from Him and run from Him, that I can make rules for myself and fix myself. But that has never worked. The only thing that set me free was when I ran to Him, came before Him and laid it all down – all the striving, the pride, the fear, the self-centeredness. I admitted it to Him. Then I realized in a catharsis of weeping that all this time I’d been fooled – by the world, by the devil, by myself – that I should run away from Him because He will never accept me. But in that moment, when I experienced His heart, full of tender mercy, love and compassion, I sank into the embrace of Peace I had longed for. It is full of forgiveness and a river flowing with the spirit of Life itself. He restored my wounds and mended my brokenness. He continues to do it day by day. 

To know Him, not as a faraway god or a distant force; not as a religion or an idol of men. But as a Person, filled with grace and truth, with love, with justice and all things ever right, and as a Friend? That is mind-blowing beyond description. I should also mention that one of the things that led me to this turning point, and many other moments thereafter, is the words of the Bible. The words of the Creator, and the words of Jesus. I can’t explain it all here. But if you will find these words; if you will ask Him to give you His words of life, even if you don’t have the physical copy, I have no doubt He will answer you in your place of desperation. Jesus lived as flesh and blood, he loved people in real life, he loved me back to life in this present life; He suffered death; He died, but He lived again, because death could not hold him in its dungeons. Because of Him, I can know that God is not far away.

As always, I have discovered that my calling – being true to my conviction – is not to go places to fix things or change people, but to make friends and embrace people as they are in a place that will not be ‘fixed’ unless we as brothers and sisters choose to discover the infinitely greater possibilities together. In the process, it is inevitable that as friends, we are mutually transformed in an intertwining experience of culture, challenge and change. As the Rwandan-Ugandan priest Emmanuel Katongole poignantly paints the picture, we embark on our life journey to different, difficult and dangerous places so we can walk alongside others with a “sense of being pilgrims together, pilgrims who feel the dust under their feet and come to know the places where they sojourn”. He affirms that our mission should move beyond aid, or even partnership, into a place of ‘pilgrimage’, whereby the “journeying is slower than mission done as delivery of aid, slower even than partnership”. It is pilgrimage. A life-long journey. A journey of searching, transformative faith. Pilgrimage. I like that word. That is why I call myself a wayfarer by faith.

[Cover Photo: Janielle walking in the scorching Wadi Rum Desert of Jordan, 2014. Photo by Jessica Yow.]

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