Dear Donagh,

I have always felt that each one of us was born to do something for the Lord that no one else can do. I used to worry that I would die without accomplishing this. Now, I just pray, daily, that I will have the courage, humility, and compassion to find out what this task is and do it. Unfortunately, I can't see what it is, and this depresses me.  I would appreciate your thoughts on this.  Esther

Dear Esther,

Yes, we are not parts of a machine – nor even parts of an army.  An army is a group of people doing an imitation of a machine.  See them marching in step: a very laborious way to walk.  They want to strike terror into the enemy, I suppose, by looking inhuman.  But even when we dress up in uniforms (of any kind) we are all unique children of God, and could no more replace one another than children in a family could replace one another in their mother’s heart. 

So yes, we are all different to our fingertips – and even our fingertips are different.  That means that we don’t have to try to be different from other people; wecan't help being different from them (in many ways).  But equally, we don’t have to try to be like other people; we can't help being like them (in many ways), because we are all equally human.  We are like and unlike other people.  Sometimes we stress one side, and sometimes the other.  But if we stress either of them to the exclusion of the other we find ourselves in very strange places. 

Applying this to your call: what you are called to do for the Lord is like and unlike what other people are called to do.  Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that it is exactly the same kind of work: for example, caring for elderly parents.  That work is uniquely yours, and no stranger could look after your parents in the way that you do.   It is a unique call, even though your next-door neighbours is doing the same thing for his or her parents. 

When we think of our ‘calling’ or vocation we usually think of a lifelong calling, a profession.  But why think in lifetimes?  Think in days, or just minutes.  What is the Lord calling me to do today, or this very minute?  It is usually not a difficult question to answer.  I'm called to pick up the phone.  I'm called to hold my tongue when I'd love to put someone down.  I'm called to help a stranger on the street who looks lost.  Such moments don’t seem at all grandiose; we hardly ever think of them as a vocation – a minute-long vocation.  But they are the substance of our life.  We don’t have to look for a unique lifelong vocation; there’s enough uniqueness in each moment. 

We would love to have our life all in one box, with its own label.  But isn’t it possible that a bit of open-hearted uncertainty and chaos might be even better?  If your work is coming from the heart it is uniquely and distinctively yours; and if your heart is good, then your work will be good.  Of course it is possible to make mistakes, but a good heart is about the best guide we have.  Someone gave me a poem the other day, called An Open Heart.
            He told me one time he forgot
            himself and his heart
            opened up like a door
with a loose latch

            and he tried for days to put
            it all back in proper
            but finally gave up
            and left it all jumbled up there
            in a pile and loved everything equally.

Take care, Esther.

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