What’s a “Call”?
Often a Call shows up as discontent. I might say “I need a new life” when the boundaries of the current one are pushed as far as they can go. I may discover in myself a Longing, a feeling that first rises like a freshlet, then a brook, then a river. I board my little boat and begin my journey. The Russian story title “I go I know not whither to fetch I know not what” expresses that casting off moment (and teaches the virtue of obedience). A yearning, a Longing begins to pull you into another life.
The Call can be external. The Hero/Heroine’s Journey begins at Home. (I explore Home in this blog post.) There is a Situation at Home that needs remediation. In the fairy stories a Call is usually obvious, like an ill King who needs the Water of Life, or a Herald with a message that the Prince/Princess seeks a spouse. Options include:
- Born to a Call: It used to be the youngest daughter was not to marry and to take care of the aging parents. Sometimes there is an overwhelming and obvious talent and the desire to fulfill it. Sometimes our race, social status, or gender preference creates a Calling.
- Developmental yearnings that call us into another phase of life:
- young person longs to leave the parental home, to hear “You are on your own now.”
- an elder wants to lay down a busy life and focus on something completely different.
- Call to role, work or discipline: e.g., parent, teacher, and mathematician. For Ruth Bader Ginsburg the Call was to study law, and she would not be denied because she was a woman. As lawyer and judge she demonstrated a Call to help develop a body of law supporting the rights of women and minorities.
- The Call might arrive as an introduction to a new person or a hitherto unknown field of knowledge. New types of work appear all the time.
- Life pushes you into a Call: job loss, divorce, death of someone important to you.
- Wake-Up Call: on one path, miserable; it dawns on you there is another way.
- Heart’s Call: a deep desire rises and distracts you, insisting on a response.
- Person or organization requests you to assume new levels of responsibility.
- Call to heal this planet or some part of it.
- Call by Spirit: a journey of discovery as the main character in your own mystery.
Obviously a Call can be shaped as just about anything. Our task is to recognize it.
How do you know you’ve been “called”?
In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the ghost Calls, but Hamlet doubts the Call, and then doubts what to do about it. Mary says “Yes” to the Angel Gabriel’s Call to be the mother of the Messiah.
Generally a call is less dramatic. Mostly you notice repetitive events:
- nudges, quickenings of interest
- visions and dreams
- following one idea and being told “no” multiple times
- two or more synchronous events act like an arrow pointing a new direction
- noticing repetitive patterns that don’t work
- pressed or pushed – (e.g., desperately need more money in our home, health changes)
- forced (lose a job; told you are going to receive divorce papers)
- surprise! (“won the lottery” event, a defeat evolves into victory, realize the Call happened awhile ago, you made the change and now are very happy)
Whatever forms the Call takes you can count on the fact it will continue until you respond or subdue it.
Testing the Call: Discernment
It’s possible to test what you noticed might be a “Call”, but you are not sure. Two friends of mine in college felt they might be called to marry and go into the Peace Corp, but were ambivalent about the double choice. They applied as a couple, leaving it to the Peace Corp. Peace Corp accepted them. They are still married decades later with several children, and two successful careers.
- Research – find out everything you can about where the Call points you, observe as you learn if the Call deepens or lessens.
- Look again, again, again.
- Ask: does following this Call bring me Joy?
- Does the Call bring alignment, harmony with self and Spirit?
- Who in my life will the Call effect? Can they manage? Will they be supportive? Can I find a way to follow the Call that supports them also?
A final test is that the Call repeats. If you experience ambivalence to going, you can count on things getting worse.
What if I don’t experience a “Call”?
Are you content with your life? Doing what you want to do? Being who you want to be? Maybe you take the next steps in your life by responding to a still, small voice. Maybe someone you love needs you to learn, be, different, and you adapt. Not everyone is called to a dramatic life. Is it enough to be where you are with people you love? Celebrate that gift. Trust your kind of “Call.” Stay open to all the possibilities.
Another possibility is that you just completed a Hero/Heroine’s Journey, and you are integrating how to be your new self in new environments. Trust another Call will come soon enough.
What if I don’t answer the Call?
In The Hobbit the wizard Gandalf tells Bilbo he’s going on a journey with the dwarves. Bilbo refuses. Gandalf ignores him. Bilbo’s destiny awaits him, whether he wants to leave Home or not. Moses refuses; Jehovah returns him to Egypt anyway.
The Call doesn’t go away. It often escalates, as if trying to get our attention. We experience external and internal hardships, doors are closed in our faces. A friend of mine seeking a new career had several offers. She dreamed she went down a long, dark hallway with door after door closing as she reached them. So she stopped, turned around and the doors sprang open, flooded with light. The Call was to go backwards, to her very first calling. Taking that offer was counter to common practice, but proved to be the stepping stone to major work.
What tends to happen when you ignore (smother) the Call for too long is personal stagnation, numbing from the multiple refusals, and often addiction to block it out (an addiction can become its own all-consuming Call).
How to Help Others with their Calling
To let go of the old way of being … it’s not that easy. Support can be offered in very specific ways.- Being witness to other’s lives – maybe you observe their Call before they do! Wait beside them through the confusion.
- Research to understand their Call. There are often many ways to respond to a Call.
- Make supportive comments: “You can do it!” can be said often in various ways.
- Offer practical support: buy tools (hammers or easels) make a loan, child-sit to give time for school or craft, help with housekeeping or house repair chores, offer a day away from overwhelm.
- Encourage when courage falters.
- There is always a way. Sometimes waiting reveals it.
- A Call doesn’t ask you to do/be beyond your capacity to respond. It just may not be what you expected.
While you are supporting others, ask for support in following your Call. Be as specific as possible in your requests. When people volunteer to help, take them up on it.