When life takes a detour

As I was biking this morning—my own ongoing rehab exercise which I’ll need to do for the rest of my life—I was praying for someone else who has encountered a detour on his path. He followed God into a new job for which he seems so clearly gifted, and then encountered unexpected illness which, at the moment, is making that role impossible for him. I pray for him because I know how desperately difficult it was for me to go from being the carer to the cared for. I wonder if it’s hard for him too.

As I pray, I remember the pain of that process, but also the grace of a Sunday morning a few months after my return from Afghanistan. I was still too sick to go with my family to church, and lying there in my bed, wrestling with how thing seemed to be turning out, I sensed God say to me, “Cling not to the call, but to the One who called, not to the dream, but to Me.”

I’d followed God, and when the route he took me looked different than I expected—passing through the wilderness of illness instead of travelling longer in the mountainous desert of Afghanistan—I needed to be reminded that the different route didn’t mean I wasn’t being led, or that I hadn’t heard right or followed well. It just meant Jesus knows the way and my job is not to map out the route but to trust his love and cling close to him wherever that takes me.

We’re each led into particular ministries and roles and opportunities, and some of them are difficult enough that we need to feel that specific call quite strongly to stick it out. Part of faithfulness is persevering in the task we’ve been given for as long as it’s entrusted to us. But this is important: Our ultimate calling is never to a role, but to a Person. The role may change; the Person, and the call to cling close to Him, will not. 

I’ve thought often of God’s invitation to me that Sunday morning. But until this morning I’ve mostly thought of it in relation to that big and obvious shift in my life. This morning I realized that it relates every bit as much to the blog post that I don’t have words for as to the lines of patients needing a doctor: “Cling not to the call, but to the One who called, not to the dream, but to Me.” 

How do I know when I’m clinging to the call rather than the One who calls? Most often it takes me a while to realize it. I find myself feeling anxious and unsettled, or tired and dry and pressured. I realize I’m trying to control an outcome. Saturday, for example, I felt this heaviness: “I still have no words and Monday is blog day and what am I going to write?” It’s a choice to plant my few mustard-seed grains of faith, to let go of expectations and receive the reminder that it would be fine to repost an older piece of writing this time. And as I pause and sit in stillness with Jesus, soaking in the goodness of being his and he mine, loved regardless of what I accomplish, I realize that the yoke has stopped chafing and the burden become lighter. Then and only then, I realize I’d yoked myself once again to the call rather than the One who calls, and that He has graciously helped me once again remove the heavy yoke of my self-imposed expectations that come with clinging to the call and take up, instead, the easy yoke of walking and working in step with the One who calls to me in love.


P.S. In case you missed it last week, here’s a link to a free five-day contemplative course offering you space to reflect more deeply on Jesus’ invitation in Matthew 11:28-30 to come to him in our weariness and find rest, trading in the yoke that chafes us for his that fits perfectly.

Photo by Caleb Jones on Unsplash

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Barbara Kohl

    “Cling not to the call, but to the One who called, not to the dream, but to Me” is a powerful message, something we all need to be reminded of over and over again. It is the response I received from the head of my Mission Board when, after much struggle, I wrote asking to be released from my contract to go as a missionary to Bolivia because I had received an unexpected marriage proposal. “ God’s call is not primarily to a place,” she wrote back, “but to follow him.”

  2. Barbara Abraham

    Carolyn, the blog was so beautiful and really moved me, speaking to my heart and soul, deep within. Your words are His words, truly anointed by His Spirit and I can hear His gentle voice speaking, as I read it.
    It becomes a very emotional time as it gently seeps into one’s heart.
    Thank you for your willingness and obedience to the Lord’s voice.

  3. Colleen

    Carolyn, thank you, thank you for sharing this!! I think we all long to find our calling – the thing we feel we were made to do – but whenever we get too attached to doing the thing or the role, we’re missing something deeper and better and more lasting. Knowing the One we were made to know.

    “Now this is eternal life, that they know you, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom you sent.” John 17:3 That was Jesus’ prayer for us, his followers. Not that they figure out their passion and spiritual gifts (not that those are bad, but the kingdom of God on earth – that happens when we know Him).

  4. Bonita

    It is lovely when you notice that the burden doesn’t chafe as much! I think I am starting to experience that. I care less about others expectations etc. but I still want to care. I read about a saint this morning who cared for the sick even though he was in almost unbearable pain. How do we know how much to give?

    Thank you for this very important reminder.

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