“Can you take her to the grocery store to buy diapers and formula?” The caseworker looked at me expectantly from across the table, her eyes imploring me to say yes. I glanced over at the new mom needing a ride two miles down the road to the grocery store. I hardly knew her, and yet our stories intersected that day in a way I would marvel at for years to come. “Uh, sure!” I answered hesitantly as the sweetest toddler climbed up into my lap.
That day, as I sat in a stranger’s apartment and cradled her newborn, poverty became a face in front of me. “Pro-life” became a choice, not a box to check or a stance to champion. Systemic racism looked like a single mom profiled and accused by a government agency. Suddenly, whether or not I was “called” to fight for the impoverished, to tackle systemic racism, or to advocate for life became utterly irrelevant…because if I said “no” to giving her a ride to the grocery store, this woman’s life—her family’s trajectory—would be impacted for months (and even years, possibly generations) to come. Her children would be placed in foster care, and the trauma of being ripped away from a deeply loving and committed mother would no doubt leave a lasting imprint on their developing brains and tender hearts. And who knows what the trauma of losing her children, her very reason for existing, would do to her??? Suddenly, this woman’s survival depended on me taking thirty minutes out of my day to drive her to and from the grocery store. If I had said, “I just don’t feel called to this,” the consequences would have been real and lasting in her life and the lives of her precious children.
I cannot possibly count the number of times I have said, “I just don’t feel called to that,” or, “I think God is calling me in a different direction.” Honestly, I think I genuinely believed those words when I said them, and I am quite sure the intentions behind them were pure. But now I cringe when I think about the opportunities I shirked with those words and the lives that were changed because I smoothly gave a masked “I don’t want to.” Having been involved in nonprofit work for several years, I have now been on the receiving end of these words more times than I can count. And today, I’m just going to say it: I believe this idea of “not being calling” is often just a culturally acceptable, Christianese excuse masking all sorts of very real fears we don’t want to acknowledge.
“I don’t feel called to _______.” These words roll off our tongues pretty easily when we are removed from the weight of them. It was effortless for me to say, “I’m not called to help the homeless population,” when the beautiful faces I now see every week were just a statistic. It was pretty easy for me to say, “I’m not called to advocate for those in prison,” before I received a letter from a person who suffers under the unjust and racist structures that are almost tangibly imbedded in the walls of our prisons. And it was pretty easy for me to spout off prideful and ignorant words about a pro-life “stance” before the result of that stance was sitting in front of me and needing a ride to the grocery store.
“I don’t feel called to _____.” I think these words are a red herring, meant to distract us from the very real people suffering under the oppressive systems we are knowingly or unknowingly perpetuating. Listen, I get it! I am not naive enough to believe that every person can “champion” every “cause.” Heck, there are probably thousands of very REAL injustices that I am unaware of and perpetuating. Certainly there are opportunities for sacrificial love that I turn down in pursuit of something or someone else. But can we just be honest? Can we stop throwing “calling” around like candy in a parade and say what we really mean? Something like:
“You know, that really intimidates me.”
“I am scared about how that [person, opportunity, etc.] will affect me and/or my family.”
“I don’t want to spend money on that right now.”
“I would rather invest my time elsewhere.”
“I don’t understand that issue or why I should want to help that person.”
“I am actually really excited about ____ right now and want to work on that.”
Let’s commit to being really honest, because it is only when we are candid with ourselves and others that genuine conversation can be had. And let’s not continue reducing human beings in very real need to an issue or project you can feel “called to” or dismiss just as easily as a party invitation. We ALL need to reckon with the reality that our actions (or inactions) have consequences.
I am reminded of Martin Luther King Jr.’s reflection on the Parable of the Good Samaritan in his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech: “The first question that the priest asked, the first question that the Levite asked was, ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’”
What would change if we started asking THAT question? What if, instead of quickly and easily saying, “I’m not called to that,” we asked some real and probing questions of ourselves? Questions like:
If I say no to this, what will happen? Who will suffer?
What opportunities for learning and growth will I miss if I say no?
Do I have a relationship with a real, live person who will be affected by my action/inaction?
What other perspectives am I not considering?
What does my ability to walk away from this say about my privilege?
I believe our families, our friendships, and our communities will benefit from the kinds of conversations that could result if we replaced “I’m not called to that” with honest dialogue. My life has been transformed by people who refused to settle for this response and instead pressed in and asked hard questions. Regardless of whether or not you end up saying “yes” to the need in front of you, you may be surprised by what you learn about yourself or someone else by honestly confronting your hesitations. And who knows what you might end up developing a passion for by getting curious and putting yourself in a position to learn?!