by the Rev. Carol Morehead
(photo by Santos Nagao)
I’ve been ordained now for nearly two years. And I am blessed to have a vocation, a call, to live in a specific way to serve God in this time, this place, in all the particularity of who I am. Yet I spent many years living into other vocations; this is just one slice of my life, one season of my life as a disciple and one season of living into God’s call and claim on me.
So this is how vocation is: we all have seasons in our life when we are called to specific, particular, unique work for God’s kingdom. These seasons are affected by many aspects of our lives: where we live, our commitments to other people and institutions, our spiritual development, our physical abilities, our gifts and talents.
Often we believe that our vocation is a case of properly assessing our God-given abilities and aligning them with what is needed in our context. God, however, is often rather wily about how opportunities for ministry present themselves. Sometimes it’s in ways that make total sense – I am called to serve right in that sweet spot that really feels like it flows from the core of my being. Other times, I may find myself pushed into unknown places that stretch and grow me beyond what I ever thought possible. And all this depends on the season of our life in Christ.
See, too often we wait until we believe we know what we are supposed to do, and we won’t act or follow a call until we have a sense of certainty. But, in my experience, we can only know what we can do and where we are in a particular season of our lives when we are in it. When I had small children, what I could do was very different from what I was able to do, what I thought I should do, what I sometimes wanted to do. What I can do now – with one son still home and in high school, two sons almost out of college, and a spouse who works in another city – means that this particular season is mediated by the way all the varied and seemingly unrelated parts of my life align and shape my options and my decisions.
One thing is for sure: regardless of the season I am in, I am always, always called to ministry in some way, shape, or form. Looking back, I find that regardless of the group, I have always been engaged in ministry in some way, every place I went. The groups of which I was a part often turned to me as a leader, whether teaching, leading small groups and Bible studies, planning worship, heading up outreach ministries, or giving spiritual guidance and a listening ear.
This story arch of ministry seemed natural – what I was supposed to be doing. It looked different in each stage of my life, depending on my circumstances. No matter the time in my life, this call to leadership in some form was always present. The specifics of how it looked, however, changed with the season as God continued to work on me, through me. When we allow ourselves the space to listen to our lives, to recognize the season we are in, and then to allow our ministry both to be shaped by our context and to help shape our decisions, we find that God is always calling us, luring us to be a part of something more than we are on our own.
How can we discern in the seasons of our lives? First, begin with listening. Find space for solitude and silence in order to hear God speaking to you. Also, listen to the messages that come to you in other ways – through the things others notice and say, through the reactions you have to areas of ministry, through those things which resonate with you (there are no coincidences!). These are all ways in which God may be speaking and directing you.
Next, consider discernment in some sort of structured way. We falsely believe that discernment is only for those considering ordination. Really, as the body of Christ, we must all participate in helping one another hear God at work among us. This might mean talking with a priest, a spiritual director, or trusted friends who know you. It might also mean reaching out to someone who doesn’t know you well yet who might be able to join with you in prayer and listening. Together, ask questions: What am I hearing? What am I looking for? What is God doing in my life? Where is there need in the community of faith? What are my talents and abilities suited for? How might I be closing off possibilities that God is nudging me toward?
Finally, find space in your ministry to periodically evaluate. Are there ways in which you are serving that are no longer how God is needing to use you? Do you need to let go of something so that God can begin a new work in your life? Are you on the cusp of a new season? What must die in order for new growth to begin?
We are resurrection people. That means our ministry is part of a cycle of death and rebirth, that God is continually the source of who we are and who we are becoming. In my own journey, I spent many years believing I was running away from a sense of God’s call on my life. What I have come to see is that I was in a different season of my life, that God was working through me all along. Eventually, I began to see my place in a broader community, in the mission of God in the world. Through listening, discernment, and evaluation, rather than running away from God’s call to serve, I found how to embrace it more fully, how to let go of myself and fall into God’s mercy and love. Now I lay myself open before God to be led into ministry, whatever the season of my life. I have a feeling it won’t look like anything I can ever imagine.
The Rev. Carol Morehead is assistant rector at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, San Antonio. She graduated from Seminary of the Southwest in May 2013. Reach her at
If we root our understanding of vocation in God’s own abundance, then we see what a mistake it is to think about vocation simply as finding our talents and figuring out what to do with them. Rather and more fully, it is discovering and living out of the infinite and gratuitous abundance of God.
Elizabeth Newman, “Called Through Relationship,” Vocation, from Christian Reflection – A Series in Faith and Ethics, published by The Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University, Waco, Texas. pg 21. Used with permission.