Over the past eight months, I’ve thought a lot about this question: What do I do next? I finished my BA and graduated in May. Throughout my undergrad I wanted to participate in ministry—more specifically church planting.
I took an internship in church planting and what seemed like a simple plan was no longer simple. I thought God was calling me to church planting, but even those thoughts started to change. Right now, I do not know where God is calling me, maybe it is church planting and maybe it’s not. I’m sure many of you are feeling similar uncertainties regarding the future.
Uncertainty is a normal experience for many graduating students. A 2014 article from the Guardian normalizes this uncertainty, and provides some very helpful thoughts on the topic. Many people I know are unsure what to do after graduation. Student debt and a challenging job market add to their stress.
How do we respond to this uncertainty? Discerning your calling can help.
Your “calling” is the ultimate purpose God created you for here on earth. It’s more than just a job, our families, or our work. I think every follower of Christ has an ultimate calling: to participate in God’s mission of reconciling and restoring all things to himself (2 Corinthians 5:19). Jesus calls us into this mission through the Great Commission, “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
Wherever God calls us, whether to a vocation or further school, we must participate in God’s mission, and seek to make Jesus known in thought, word, and deed. This is our ultimate purpose, and there is no greater joy than to celebrate people coming to know Jesus.
As we embrace our calling from God to join him in his mission, we can discern how best to serve him through our work and the opportunities God places before us.
Here are a few things that helped me in my season of discerning:
Prayer is central to the Christian life. We see this in Jesus’ life as he continually spent time alone in prayer. This showed his dependence on his relationship with the Father. Our lives should imitate Christ’s, so we need to focus on our relationship with God through prayer. Praying for wisdom, patience, and awareness of God’s will can help us focus on these things, and praying for God to continually form us into the likeness of Jesus can remind us that God is working in us amidst changing situations. Personally, I found prayer grounding, as it placed less focus on myself and rooted my identity as God’s child. Prayer was also a part of John Cassian’s life and involved resting in the presence of God, “not thinking, or feeling, or imagining, or speaking or promising… Just being with the One we love. And who loves is”(1).
Jane Tomaine explains,
“Begin prayer by sitting quietly. Then bring the sacred word (a word that helps focus yourself on being with God and could be God, love, hope, etc.) into your mind… You don’t repeat it audibly or even in your mind… it is just there. When thoughts come, and they will for we’ll rarely be thought-free, don’t be distressed. Let them pass by without grabbing them”(2).
Try this for 5 minutes to an hour each day, or once a week, and close with a prayer of thanksgiving. It is odd at first, but rewarding after several days. Praying for ourselves, our needs, and the needs of others is important because we are reminded of our dependence on God for all things, including calling. Pay for opportunities to share the gospel, as you discern where God is inviting you to follow him.
SHAPE is a tool many churches use to help people discern their calling. The ‘S’ stands for ‘Spiritual Gifts’. Spiritual gifts are given by God through His Spirit. ‘H’ stands for ‘Heart’ and refers to things you are passionate about. ‘A’ refers to your ‘Abilities’ or t things you are good at. ‘P’ stands for “Personality’. Plug in any personality test you like—my church uses the DISC test, I prefer the Enneagram. Lastly, ‘E’ refers to ‘Experiences’. What is helpful for this one is to draw a timeline of your life and mark significant events on them, with descriptions of why they were significant.
This was hard for me because sometimes I think I am not good at anything. However, when I was honest with myself I was able to think of abilities I am good at. You could also ask someone who knows you well to help you reflect on these factors. SHAPE is not the be-all-end-all, but it can provide insight into who you are which is part of discerning your calling.
Seek advice from others you trust. These are people who know you well and speak truth into your life even when it is hard. For me, I discussed what I should do with my friends who know me well. I often go to mentors in my life, including my pastors, my professors, and my mother.
Go to those you trust who will continue to walk with you, and trust that God will speak powerfully through them.
Just doing something can help you figure out where God is calling you. God may reveal your passion for something as you serve your neighbour. Service can reveal aspects of the world that anger, excite, and encourage you to take action.
After going through a lot of uncertainty, I went to my mentors and pastors for assistance. They helped me discern that ministry was a passion, but the specific direction was uncertain. I walked through SHAPE with my pastor and small group, and this helped me to see that no matter what I do, I will be participating in church planting and academics would always be a big part of my life.
I was left with a couple of options: go directly to seminary to pursue academia, or take one-two years off to work with a church for more discernment. Making a decision between these two was challenging; they were both good things that I would love to do.
Unfortunately, each had their drawbacks and I could not do both. Amidst this, two things were emphasized throughout the discernment process: first, that no decision I make is bad, and second, I am still young and have lots of time.
I did not like hearing the first because I still had to make a decision, and the second is something not many young people like to hear. We want things to happen right away.
Jesus was thirty when he began his ministry, and here I was grovelling over not knowing what I want to do at twenty. A mentor told me to weigh the pros and cons of each choice. Working and church planting became more appealing. It would give me time to discern my ministry direction, and working would help me pay off student debt.
One day I decided to go to Deeds, an outreach that Redeemer University hosts. We travel to downtown Hamilton, share hot chocolate, and build relationships with people that we meet. At the time, I was feeling very depressed and thought service might help me get out of my head.
I got some hot chocolate and offered it to the first person I saw—a women begging at a street corner. She initially declined, but after a while we started a conversation and I listened to her story of living in Hamilton. I told her how I was thinking of moving downtown.
First, she told me moving to downtown Hamilton would ruin my life. But when I explained my desire to walk like Jesus did with the people who were struggling , she told me I had to come. This seemed like God confirming my desire–I knew what I had to do. I made the decision to take time away from school to invest in church planting and social justice in Hamilton.
Jesus says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). God will help you discern your direction as you seek him and his kingdom. It won’t be an easy journey–you may even experience struggles because God does not promise comfort. But, God will show you amazing things when you seek his kingdom and there is no greater joy than to participate in that.
- M. Basil Pennington, OCSO, Lessons from the Monastery That Touch Your Life (Mahway, NJ: Paulist Press, 1994), 40-41.
- Jane Tomaine, St. Benedict’s Toolbox: The Nuts and Bolts of Everyday Benedictine Living, (New York, NY: Morehouse Publishing, 2015), 115-116.