I’m not sure if this happens to everyone as they reach their late twenties, but Mike and I have been getting the itch. Some people notice the itch as a desire for kids or for a different career, to redecorate the house, to buy a new house, or to live somewhere else altogether, say, the suburbs or your hometown or the mission field in Africa.
For Mike and me the itch has largely centered on Mike’s future in the military. “What are we doing? Are we staying in or getting out?” We think the question so loud it’s audible in our house. I sense it in the living room when Mike is on the floor playing with Molly, occupied with Legos but thinking it still. I see the residue of the thoughts when I open the Internet browser on the computer and research for the GI Bill, for MBA programs, and the criteria for Marine Corps Reserve pop up, tab after tab of possibilities.
But other times I’ll witness Mike’s patriotic resolve when the national anthem plays. I notice how his Marine-ness has infiltrated the rigid posture of his spine, the fixedness of his jaw, the tightness of fists held to side. He stands at attention so naturally, so proudly. Then I think, “No. We aren’t leaving. This is who he is. Mike is a Marine. ”
…And all the stuff about devil dogs.
So we volley the questions about our future back and forth, in our minds and in our spoken sentences, trying different angles, different approaches, different swings and strategies to land at a finish that feels true.
We are staying in. We are getting out.
We try on the possibilities like outfits that make us feel pretty.
Over and over again we wonder: if there is no uniform, no deployment, no three-year expiration on every address, then what?
Stability sounds like relief, like rescue. But it also sounds like captivity, like shackles, like gated boredom. I want to put down roots at the very same moment I’m restless for migration. I am a bird that wants to build a nest and also wants to fly. Or maybe I’m more like a peacock that loves to impress people with the extravagance of my back pocket identity: my husband’s in the military.
A couple weeks ago our friends Brandon and Julia came over and the four of us sat around the fire talking about what it means to confront this precipice of vocation. What do we do with the itch? Brandon and Julia are highly entrepreneurial by nature and so when the conversation veered towards whether or not Mike should stay in the Marine Corps, Brandon got out a calculator and started calculating the ‘opportunity cost’ of military retirement.
Brandon kept talking about our future in terms of dollars and cents and I kept using words like ‘family and ‘roots’ and ‘ughhhhh.’ Our points of view kept misaligning, different languages clashing against one another, nails on a chalkboard, iron against iron. Surely we were sharpening each other, but I felt myself getting angry, not at Brandon, but at the indecipherable next step, the looming, oppressive gray area.
What are we called to do?
In Christian circles, any discussion about the future tends to ricochet off the idea of calling. Calling is the life objective, the consummate purpose pulling us towards self-realization.
The Puritans divided calling into two categories: general and particular. Christians have a general calling into fellowship with God, but particular calling is usually oriented around a skill set or task. For example, God called Moses as a political leader for a nation. Isaiah was dramatically called as a prophet. Saul was called to take the Gospel to the Gentiles. These particular callings were marked by dramatic confrontations: a burning bush, a hot coal on lips, a blinding light.
And I think this is what we are all waiting for. We want a divine encounter, for coincidences that add up to confirmation, for a boss or pastor or authority figure to tell us what we’re good at and awaken the realization in ourselves. Personally, I would love to be delegated my particular calling. And also paid for it.
Sometimes this happens. Sometimes it doesn’t.
Also, just because I’m delegated a task for now doesn’t mean I own it forever. Some people are called to military or politics or ministry for a lifetime. Some are called for a year or a decade or five minutes. We never know the duration.
Isn’t that annoying?
Calling tends to be confusing because it implies there is a solicitation I’m still waiting on, an invitation lost in the mail.
But now I’m starting to suspect that calling is far more invisible than I initially imagined, that it often involves an internal equipping instead of an external beckoning.
I believe that God works within us so we can get be productive in the task nearest us.
And maybe it’s as simple as that.
Is Mike called to be a (career) Marine? Am I called to be a (successful) writer or (microphoned) musician or (principled) blonde?
I don’t know.
But I do know that for now we are equipped exactly where we are. I know that we are planted in these areas for a reason, even if we aren’t planted here forever.
So each day we work at the tasks nearest us. Mike is saluting and I’m writing and Molly is growing loud and tall. We notice the areas we are uniquely equipped and exercise those resources.
And when I’m itchy about the long-term particulars, when I’m restless and unsure, I retreat to the generals of what I believe to be true.
If you don’t mind, I’d like to speak them directly to you.
You have been called to exercise your gifts exactly where you are, as you are, as faithfully as you can for the glory of God.
The mandate on your life is not to land a certain job or title or platform. A calling is not a directive to get famous or be noticed or make lots of money or stand at the top of capitalist society. It certainly is not the contingency for Christ’s affection towards you.
God is vine and we are branches and the call is to remain in Him. That’s the whole gig. Because when we do, He causes us to be productive in meaningful ways. He equips us to be helpful, nourishing, life-giving people to those around us.
That’s the bulls eye. In a world of possibilities, it’s the one target I’m sure of.
So I don’t know if we’re staying in or getting out of the military, but for now we will remain. We will respond to the call we know by saying yes and amen and probably slip in an ooh-rah for good measure.