Not so Freely Chosen

Our calling finds us

By CAROL LUEBERING

My youngest granddaughter has been a bookworm since she was just a tiny tot. As soon as she could form letters on a page, Lydia announced her career choice: She was going to be a writer when she grew up and already had her first story started.

What a chip off this old block that child is! I dictated my stories to my dad long before I learned to write, and he — bless him — typed them so that I could share them with other family members and send a copy to my aunt, who was a journalist in a distant state.

My future wasn’t completely settled before I started school, though. I was in my 40s before I knew what I should be writing. I had lost interest in fiction early on, and most of what I wrote was a volunteer effort for some church-connected group.

Then my parish established a committee to serve the needs of bereaved people. We expected to help families plan the funeral liturgies for our senior citizens, but we quickly discovered the need to follow up after the funeral. The first death we had to deal with was that of a man in his 40s who dropped dead of a heart attack, leaving a widow with three children to raise and a business to run. Her friends and neighbors wanted to help, but didn’t know how until she complained to one of our group that cooking for kids with finicky appetites was the hardest task she faced. We passed that news on and started a flow of kid-friendly meals. And we never again thought our job was finished with the funeral.

My first book was an effort to share our experience with other communities, and I have been writing for and about sorrowing people ever since.

My experience leads me to suspect that we do not discover our calling so much as we wait for it to find us — even though we have no idea that we are waiting. I expressed this theory in an extended phone conversation with a friend who had serendipitously discovered a talent for acting, and her enthusiastic agreement was immediate.

We never know what will trigger an interest or fan it into a career choice. A delight with mechanical drawing and a fondness for the teacher who introduced him to it led my husband into an engineering career that lasted 40 years. My sister became an excellent seamstress because she was unusually tall before there were such things as tall shops and found it expedient to learn how to sew. I could go on and on …

And so, I strongly suspect, could you. Take a moment to inventory the interests that engage you most compellingly and to remember just how they developed. Did you, like my friend the actress, discover them because someone suggested you give something a try? Or is it something you have known from early on has strong appeal to you, like Lydia’s and my desire to see our name in a byline?

Whatever the answer, carry your calling into your prayer with you. Spend some leisurely time remembering how you discovered that path to which you felt drawn. Did it come in one blinding flash or did it unfold slowly, step by step?

Search your memory for the folks who nurtured your interests. Gratefully call to mind the people who helped you discern what you were called to do. Remember the teacher who urged you to develop a particular talent, the ones who encouraged you even as other people were shaking their heads, the friends who applauded your smallest or earliest successes.

Once you have searched your memory for the folks who gave you the strongest encouragement, give thanks to God for their influence on your life. Offer your thanks to those individuals as well. Reach across the miles by writing a letter or making a phone call. Span even the distance created by death with your prayers and your memories, for these people remain deeply and forever a part of you.

And don’t forget that you have influenced other lives as well. Think back over the nurturing relationships into which you have entered. Start, of course, with family members and your closest friends — but don’t stop there. Include the young coworkers you mentored, the elderly folks you visited regularly. Express your gratitude for those relationships and for the opportunity to be a valuable influence on other lives.
For the bottom line is that none of us comes to be who we are in isolation. The God who calls us speaks with many voices, even with yours and mine.

The late Carol Luebering wrote this column for the November 2010 issue of Celebration. A prolific writer and author of 15 books, she was a longtime contributor to both Celebration and a monthly newsletter, The Caring Community, also published by the National Catholic Reporter. She died Nov 24, 2010.