Driven or Called?
“Remember that something can be a vocation or calling only if some other party calls you to do it, and you do it for their sake rather than for your own. Our daily work can be a calling only if it is reconceived as God’s assignment to serve others. And that is exactly how the Bible teaches us to view work.”—Tim Keller[i]
In her book Real Love for Real Life, Andi Ashworth mentions, almost in passing, the need to be called rather than driven.[ii] Being called rather than being driven may seem like a subtle distinction, but it makes a world of difference in my attitudes towards interruptions, the desires others have for my time, and the ongoing futility I feel as a result of the Fall.
If I am driven in my desires to make art or even to parent in a particular way, challenging circumstances and other people will begin to look like enemies to my success as they make reaching my goals more difficult. I will be tempted to be harsh, depressed, and irritable whenever I begin to lose control over the details of life that impact my progress towards my desired end. Drivenness is based on my desires, my goals, my plans, and it relies on my energy, my ingenuity, and my willpower to succeed at all costs.
Given this acute focus and reliance on myself in drivenness, it’s really no surprise that I can so quickly become so horrible towards those I love when I’m not making steady progress towards my goals, even when those goals themselves seem like very good things. “Where do you think all these appalling wards and quarrels come from?” the apostle James asks us. “Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves. You lust for what you don’t have and are willing to kill to get it. You want what isn’t yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it.”[iii]
In contrast, if I am called and not merely driven by my own desires, needs, and plans, then I am responding to the design someone else has for my life. God is the one asking me to make art and to parent my children. When circumstances or other people seem to make these more difficult (inevitable!) or when these two callings of mother and artist crash into each other (often!), I can be confident that those circumstances and those actions and decisions by others were permitted by God. Those hardships that “hinder” my carrying out the calls on my life are ultimately superintended by the One who sent out the call. And because He is all powerful, His will cannot be thwarted.
The difference, then, is that I can surrender to God’s oversight rather than relying on my own control. While I want to remain faithful to the work God has given me, my job is not to maintain absolute control over everyone else and everything else, nor to despair if those people or happenings thwart my goals.
Choosing to live as called rather than driven is not theological hairsplitting; it is a commitment to believe that God’s ways are higher than my ways and His thoughts so much more wise than my thoughts. It is the deliberate choice to bear with the needs and sometimes the thoughtlessness or sins of others as they create more work for me and sometimes unravel the progress I have made. It is releasing my white-knuckle grip on the schedule I had hoped to keep in exchange for the one that God, in His kindness and wisdom has allowed me to have. God’s paths towards His desired ends for me may not be straight or level—they rarely are. God is not merely interested in my desire to check things off my to-do list; He is using His callings in my life—and the difficulties in accomplishing them—to conform me to the image of His Son!This view frees me to trust that God knows how in the world I will ever have anything to show for my calling as an artist. It allows me to trust Him for the souls of my children. I can even let go of worrying about the opinions that others have of my art career, my parenting, and my housekeeping.
I no longer have to manage everyone that touches or observes me and my creative life. I can entrust all those uncontrollable forces to the one who has already written the Story of my life. He is able to superintend every aspect of it as He works in me “both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” I can rest in the sure promise that “Faithful is He who called you who also will do it.” He will not allow anything to thwart His good plan for me and my talents. The callings He has given me correspond perfectly with each circumstance He allows. He is that involved and that powerful and will use this whole complicated, mind-blowing soup of my daily life to teach me to trust Him.
Praise to the Lord, who doth prosper thy work and defend thee;
Surely His goodness and mercy here daily attend thee.
Ponder anew what the Almighty can do,
If with His love he befriend thee.[iv]
[ii]. p 125
[iii]. James 4:1-2 The Message
[iv]. "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty," Joachim Neander