Who am I? What am I made for?
If we are brave, we will ask and listen to those questions and not run from them. The answers matter.
The most elemental question we will ever ask is, “Who am I?” It is also a question with vast risk. I can think of nothing more terrifying than to consider the horror of being met by Christ with the words “I never knew you. Depart from Me.” My entire being depends on who I am in God’s estimation. His love makes me matter. His love makes my life of value. All the suffering and hardship, all the losses, the hopes, dreams, successes, failures, and second chances come to importance because He knows me and loves me. Everything I have endured is worth it because I am someone to Him. He knows my face, my real and true face. I am someone known completely and loved completely. At the end of my days I will shed the weight of this world, cast it off like a worn out chrysalis, and emerge with nothing more than a pure, glimmering identity. No trappings but who I have been made to be, naked and singular. Whatever adornment I am given after this world, it will be secondary to His reading my name in the Book of Life and naming me as His own in the company of the great cloud of witnesses. He will give me a new name that is uniquely mine and that name will be known only to Him and to me. A shimmering, unbroken identity never tarnished or lost, traded or defamed, never mispronounced or mocked, never to be taken away.
Perhaps you have had the same name since birth and it has never been changed. Or perhaps you have changed your name with marriage or adoption or even divorce. You may be given a name by love or affection different than your legal given name.
No matter how we receive our name on earth, every name has a story. Every name matters.
Because the circumstances of my life were what they were, my name was changed several times before I reached adulthood and was legally allowed to change it back to the name my first mother gave me – Lancia. During those vulnerable years, I had a nightmare of standing before the Lord with a vast podium and a book before Him ~ the Book of Life. The podium must have been at least 5 stories high. I was tiny before Him and that podium. He turned the pages and asked me, “What is your name?” I could only reply, “I don’t know my name.” My name could not be found in the Book of Life.
Decades later, thinking of this dream still makes me cry. I remember how utterly lost I felt, how much I wanted to be recognised and known, for there to be a name for me. The God in this dream was not mean. He was cold, uncaring, and detached. The God in this dream was the picture of my deepest fear, a fear so deep I could never have given words to it as a fourteen year old girl. When the hour of proving my identity came, I feared to my bones that I would have no name to declare, no proof of identity. No bloodline to declare my right to belong or to come in. It is every orphan’s deep terror.
The God who has the right and authority to read the Lamb’s Book of Life, is nothing like my nightmare. The Triune God knew my name before He made the world, because He Himself planned and named me. He never needed me to know my own name to find me. My name, reflecting all that I am, was created and given me by Himself. He knows me because He made me. This is a bedrock reality for me. He called me into being and enfleshed me in this good world He made. The marvel of this is not only for me. The great beauty of it is that He knows your name, too, because He planned and named you. Your name rolls around on His tongue with love and abiding affection. He knows you completely. He knows your story and remembers every moment of it, remembering the whole of it in fact to a depth you cannot. He knows your history and your destiny. He knows how the story of you began and how the great Story – all our stories interwoven into His-Story – ends here, and how it continues after here. We are each wonders unfolding, no matter how worn and ragged we may feel.
We are named and given an indelible identity before we are born. We are not given this identity because of our earning it or any good works because it is ours before we do anything at all, even breathing. This identity is bound to us, and it is, in fact, the song that is singing us Home. It is a wonder that that is so and new wonders unfold when we choose to hear it and believe.
Now, as if this wonder of being known and named, given a true identity, is not enough, to it is added another wonder! This other wonder is that we are each individually made for a purpose and given a destiny of good works to which we are called. A Voice calls to us individually across time, space, and all dimensions. That Voice that calls to us into being is also the Voice calling us Homeward. How do I know? In the simplest terms, because the Bible tells me so.
“For we are God’s [own] handiwork (His workmanship), recreated in Christ Jesus, [born anew] that we may do those good works which God predestined (planned beforehand) for us [taking paths which He prepared ahead of time], that we should walk in them [living the good life which He prearranged and made ready for us to live].” ~ Ephesians 2.10, AMPC
The word we know in English as ‘calling’ comes from the Latin word vocare ~ the voice of summoning. Calling is about our being summoned into personhood and also to our homeward path. Personhood is an inward reality with an outward expression. Being summoned to a homeward path is an invisible guidance system leading to our future dwelling. Though utterly intangible, both of these carry great significance.
There is a third aspect of calling, however, that is very tangible in our present moments. Vocation. Vocation is the way many of us first understand the term calling: a summons to the kind of work we are made to do and find our deepest fulfillment in. The English word ‘vocation’ stems from early roots of a consecrated calling by God to a consecrated profession. This kind of calling means to be appointed and ordained. We each long for some kind of authorized and validated pronouncement that what we love to do and who we are while doing it has the stamp of approval. It is the holiest and deepest kind of permission given to be who we are made to be. Living into that calling is a profound expression of who we are.
Because “calling” has the element of holy office in it, there is a temptation to regard “calling” as something very high and lofty, something perhaps that exempts us from the duties of “normal” people. The temptation is to say that the calling to music, or dance, or public speaking, or writing, for instance is more holy and important than the ordinary duties of our life. Nothing could be further from the truth! God calls us to be become whole and holy people in the midst of fulfilling the duties of humble daily living in commune with others, doing our part of sustaining that life in common. There is as much value in doing the dishes, taking out the trash, and holding a regular job to support a household, as there is in writing a sermon, painting or photographing as a work of art, or dancing in performance. All is holy when done as an act of worship.
The art that matters is the art of what we make of our whole life, not just a fragment of our self expression.
We are not called because we are worthy. We are made worthy as we are called. Our calling is not given us because of anything we have earned or accomplished. Our calling something planted in us from the very outset of our creation. It is something we “hear” or sense within us, and it is something we “hear” or recognise beyond us. It concerns both our identity and our vocation. We are called into being, and we are called to tasks, loves, assignments, and paths. Calling is not to be trifled with, but recognised with respect and humility. Candidly, the path to recognizing and responding to our callings is often fraught with struggle, risk, cost, and effort. It is a work that will likely take all our lives to fully enter into. And we are rarely, if ever, called only to one thing, or only a single area of mastery. The nature of human beings is multi-faceted and it is fitting that we may be called to marriage or singleness, works of public social justice or quiet private lives, several areas of making and craftsmanship, and to specific places. Whatever the specifics of our calling, we are called to be whole and wholeness envelopes complexity.
We commonly understand the term “calling” to mean having a path appointed to walk that is unique to us as an individual. Yet it also bears a mark shared communally with others. When we walk where we are called, we are walking where Christ’s presence meets us personally. No matter how difficult that path may be, when we are called to it, it is the place where we find “the peace that passes understanding.”
Being called has every day, living in this world implications, just as does our given-before-creation-identity. Our calling shapes who and what we pursue. It defines where we must make a stand, and where we must draw boundary lines. It directs us to be specific in how we use our life’s energy and resources. Yet, calling is not simply about our loves and work in this world. Ultimately, it is the first mark of being a citizen of another world, an unseen Kingdom, and fashioned to live by that world’s standards rather than those of this world. As in all societies, citizens lives and serve in various roles and capacities. When we whisper shyly to a friend or a mentor, “I think I am called to be a writer” or a dancer or a painter or a political activist, we are not simply saying what we are supposed to do here. We are saying something much deeper and more defining about ourselves and who we are made to be. We are saying what we are made for in a higher and unseen realm, and though it is unseen, it is true and real. That unseen realm is truer, in fact, and more Real than this one that we can now see. Everything that we know to be true in our own self bears witness to it if we have the ears to hear it and the will to receive it. And everything about the call is asking us to trade the ragged self we bear in this world and live out of the self of this other truer, more Real world. Calling ultimately is about taking off the trappings of this world and dressing in the garb and self of another, truer one.
One of my favourite passages in literature is a section of C.S. Lewis’s masterpiece sermon, The Weight of Glory.
The passage I am referring to is where Lewis writes about the “inconsolable secret” in each one of us. He gives us a vocabulary for something sacred in us, something so deep and so powerful we are most often unable to speak of it at all – the longing for our home country and for Beauty. The respectful and tender way he talks about giving words to something so private and precious that we risk breaking our hearts if we look too openly or too long at it, is the very way we realize he shares this secret in common with us. Inside we each know that it is there: the longing that moves through our souls with each breath, the whisper of something beyond us beckoning us to come home, the call to something we can barely describe and lower our eyes at the thought of. This whisper of a world beyond here, this yearning to be something more than we seem to be, is sacred. It is hallowed ground, holy and not to be tread upon casually. In the quiet moments of our life, we know its voice. It stirs in us a holy discontent, an uneasiness with the way things are in us and in the world that now holds us. This understanding of calling is something I do not speak of lightly nor expect you to look at easily. Everything we are and will ever be, everything that defines reality for us is at stake.
The most beautiful and elusive gift of identity and calling is something that still surprises me. Security. Emotional and soulful security, an end of fear and striving, a confidence that is quiet and steady. It is the security that allows me to lean into my given work, my assigned roles, my deep loves, without the curse of anxiety, without making excuses for any of it, without having to fight and justify it. I am planted in the good soil of belonging and being, free to do the work of making that I am made for with joy and satisfaction, rejoicing in the effort, and trusting the outcome of it the One who made me so. He made me to be a maker and He did so for you as well. Rooted and grounded in the goodness of God our Maker, may we enter, friend, into His good plans and purposes for us.
Here’s to the deep merriment among the fellowship of makers!
“Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine,
according to His power that is at work within us,” ~ Ephesians 3.20
The featured image of titled “Shotover Road in Sunlight” is courtesy and (c) of Lancia E. Smith. It is used with her permission for Cultivating.
Shotover is the park behind The Kilns, the beloved home of C.S. Lewis, which is now cared for by the C.S. Lewis Foundation.
Lancia E. Smith is an author, photographer, teacher, and business owner. A grateful lover of the Triune God, Lancia is the Founder & Executive Director of Cultivating & The Cultivating Project. She has served in executive management, church leadership, boards, and Art & Faith organizations over 30 years. She & her husband Peter have parented 7 children, & have a flock of beloved grandchildren. Lancia loves garden and website design, beautiful typography, road trips, being read aloud to by Peter, & cherishes every book she ever read by C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and George MacDonald.
A Field Guide to Cultivating ~ Essentials to Cultivating a Whole Life, Rooted in Christ, and Flourishing in Fellowship
Enjoy our gift to you as our Welcome to Cultivating! Discover the purpose of The Cultivating Project, and how you might find a "What, you too?" experience here with this fellowship of makers!