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What Is Your Calling?

Do you feel you have a calling to do a particular task in life? What is it?  When did you recognize it? How did you recognize it?  Do you ever doubt it? Is it a burden or a gift?

These are not idle questions for me.  I want to know how other folks handle the sense of vocation versus choosing a course in life based on preference or desire. I'm once again examining my own sense of what drives me.

I do feel a calling to write particular stories; they all, both novels and short fiction, have in some way to do with experience of the supernatural, the divine, God, the "other side." They are not ghost stories or sci-fi or fantasy or morality tales.  They're all (so far) what I think of as realistic stories about extraordinary experiences. Ecstatic spirituality, I guess you could say. 

Some of these stories are pretty damn weird.  Also, they deal with the intertwined nature of spirituality and sexuality.  I've seen people ask for refunds on the one that's set in a Presbyterian church.  Not to mention some of the eyebrows raised over the one that involves voodoo and sacred sex.

What puzzles me is how particular and inescapable this calling feels.  After finishing Revelation, an experience that was pretty intense, I decided to write a light bedroom comedy as a sort of palate refresher.  That eventually turned into Cobalt Blue, the most turbulent and finally transcendent thing I've written (By transcendent, I'm not making claims about the writing, I'm talking about what the main character does and feels.)

No matter how I start, I come back to the same kinds of events.  I haven't managed to do otherwise.

To have a clear sense of what I am to do mostly feels like a gift.  I also worry a little at how much it feels like a compulsion.

I'd like to think I'm free to choose.  But in fact my choices seem to be two:

*write these stories

*procrastinate about writing these stories

This does feel to me like the kind of calling that brings people to the ministry.  Feels like it comes from something large and not me: which is to say, God.

God the source and my DNA the messenger.  Then the writing is left to me. That's how it feels.

Am I kidding myself?

 It's certainly  not as if the stories flow easily out of me from elsewhere; I write dozens of drafts, a process which takes years.

(Now 11:30.  Must turn off the blue light of this screen if I want to be able to get to sleep.  Maybe clarity will arrive in the night.)

Clarity did not arrive in the night.  Unless this could be called clarity: Question cannot be resolved.  .Not by this writer, anyway.  Simply carry on as before. Itchy questioning will gradually cease, for a while.

I guess that's my resolution, for the moment.

What about you? Do you feel a calling?  A weirdly specific one? A cloudy and confusing one? How do you handle it?

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14 Responses to “What Is Your Calling?”

  1. kenju Says:

    I am and have been compelled to work with flowers since high school. It is all I have ever wanted to do  (that I will admit.)   lol

  2. Peggy Payne Says:

    That is hilarious, Kenju, I guess the acronym for that is TIH. You’re certainly good at the flowers.

  3. Julie Says:

    I have been "called" to do various things in the course of my life.  But I have experienced guilt and confusion about wanting to be a writer/actress and wanting to help people.  For five years I found something that let me do both:  I was a volunteer clown at Duke Cancer Patient Support.  I talked to patients in waiting room and while they were having chemo.  At the end of my shift I was drained, yet felt exhilarated.
    Life happened, and I can't do that anymore, until I retire.  But maybe someday I'll write a book about it.  I already have the title:  "I'm Saving My Hair in a Plastic Bag."  One of my patients had beautiful red hair, and she was saving some of it so she could get a wig the same color.

  4. Peggy Payne Says:

    Wonderful resolution to this conflict, Julie! I hadn’t even thought of the problem/blessing of 2 callings. (Which is probably a clear sign that I don’t have kids.) I hope that life is allowing you some time to continue with these in a satisfying way.

  5. Lynn Doiron Says:

    Hi Peggy — Interesting question and I enjoyed your exploration/puzzling over the sense of what drives you. A few years (maybe 5) have passed since I had the pleasure of your guidance at the Meredith workshop in Raleigh. The novel I was working on at that time (The True Life Adventures of Irene in White Tights) is due out this year via Water Street Press. With that project, once I'd seen photos and heard the story of the inspirational girl/woman I based my fictional Irene upon — I felt drawn by (what shall I call it? my feminist side?) her smile and early (unexplained) death to write about the plight and courage of women during the first 30 years of the 20th century. What began as one thing turned into another as other biases/prejudices based upon appearances kept presenting themselves. So many books are judged by their covers and so it is with people (by gender, religion, race, profession, fashion, etc.).
    The particular task I have at the moment is an earlier one, one dating since my late husband's death in 1988 as a result of service-related injuries sustained in Vietnam, 1967. I returned to school in the early nineties to obtain a degree in English, Creative Writing, specifically to learn how to write about what it was to be a "war bride" and share (not only share but also discover) that world in which we found ourselves. This past November I came across a filing box full of letters from Al written during his tour of duty with the USMC 1966-67. With this discovery, I was struck by the old calling to tell our story again. It is both burden and gift. I've given it a start here:  [If you're interested, will send you the password.]
    Thanks for this blog post, Peggy. One way or another, I feel less alone.
    lynn doiron

  6. Peggy Payne Says:

    Lynn, so good to hear from you. And thanks for telling this story. Big congratulations on getting your novel done and almost out. Very exciting! Also, I’m so glad you’re getting back to your own story. Sound to me as if you’re coping with the gift/burden thing well. Do stay in touch. Peggy

  7. mohana Says:

    I have bounced around from writing to teaching to consulting and the writing is the thread through all of it. I hope that the decision I made (a few years ago) to devote myself to writing entirely holds; there are many life challenges that can get in the way of our calling – the least of which is losing confidence.
    Intriguing post, as always.

  8. Marty King Says:


    Hi Peggy,  
    I have always felt a calling but I didn't know what it was until this past year.  I am almost 64 now so you can imagine the burden I felt and the number of times I questioned my belief in myself. The need to find out why I was here reached a personal crisis point several times during the past 2 to 3  years, 
    I notice that you have some references to Jean Houston on your website.  She has some very interesting thoughts about calling and what is happening during this point in time on earth.  She sees a large number of women over 50 hearing a calling right now.  Jean Houston is one of the people I  turned to for help in finding my answers,  Deepak Chopra is another.  They are both tough, but I know my purpose.
    Now, the real fun begins, I get to fulfill my purpose.

  9. Peggy Payne Says:

    Marty King, I’m glad you found out what it was. That’s exciting. And I’m curious: what does a calling without particular content feel like? How does that express itself?

  10. Peggy Payne Says:

    Thanks, Mohana. I think that business of finding the central thread is crucial. It can seem as if we’re getting off track when that’s not so. I sometime think of myself as being in the syllable business.

  11. Marty King Says:

    Peggy, great question.  It was a divine whisper that said I was here for a reason.  It was a divine promise that everything would make sense one day.  Until that day, there was part of me that lived in perpetual agony.  I had belief without cause.  At one point in time I felt like the  people in the movie "Close Encounters of the Third Kind".  They were all going someplace but they didn't know where or why.
    I wonder, does this make any sense at all to someone who doesn't have the same experience?

  12. Peggy Payne Says:

    It makes sense to me, Marty, except for one question. Why the agony? Seems to me that that message could be reassuring. Were you doubting that the reason would ever appear?

  13. John Hilpert Says:

    Peggy, very solid question.  I've been dealing with discernment of calling for 35 years, mostly with groups, and now more in spiritual direction.  Still love Buechner's – 'where the world's need intersects with what you most need to do.'  You've found your call – yet still a great idea to periodically re-visit or seriously question.  Something usually needs to be let go, for anything new to arrive.  The Protestant church, and especially liberal ones, chucked discernment techniques out the window in favor of pure intellect.  35 years ago, hardly anything available written, except by opaque RC writers.  Now there is plethora.  I like "Live For a Change" by Dewar (available at Potter's House, Church of the Saviour).  

  14. Peggy Payne Says:

    Wow, John, thanks for this very useful answer. I’ll check out “Live for a Change.” I know nothing of the discernment techniques that were abandoned 35 years ago. I’m curious about what they are and why they were ditched. This is fascinating. Thanks again.


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