Your Calling Here and Now, Gordon T. Smith. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2022.
Summary: Looks at calling in our present moment and place, and how we live into our calling in all the turnings and changes of life.
Often the idea of calling or vocation seems to be presented in a grand scheme, lifelong way. And we often struggle to connect that to our present moment. Gordon T. Smith addresses this dilemma with a thought-provoking question:
“We ask, at this time and at this place, who and what are we called to be and do?”
None of us can map out our whole lives. But what is required of us in this day, both in terms of what qualities of character and what actions in our given situation may be clearer, and to live faithfully in light of this takes us into the bigger picture of God’s intentions. Smith proposes that to answer this question daily requires of us focus amid distraction, courage to act, connection with others who discern with us, and patience amid hurry to allow clarity to unfold. Furthermore, we become free to be and to act as we know ourselves to be the beloved of God and calling as the stewardship of the life lovingly given us.
Smith then helps us think about calling in three concentric circles of callings within our calling. The inner circle consists of the “must do’s,” in a sense, what we must do this day to “pay the rent.” The second circle constitutes the things that must happen now or they won’t happen–we only get to spend time with our thirteen year old son or daughter now. If we don’t, we won’t. The third circle, then is made up of those good things we want to pursue as there is time. Smith then discusses how we live in the tension of these callings and six questions to ask ourselves. Sometimes the tensions in our callings lead us into transitions. Sometimes these are transitions of saying yes to a calling we only grasped in an inchoate way earlier in life, or perhaps did not have the courage and support to pursue. Smith describes the challenge in these situations of shifting from the expert to the beginner, becoming a learner all over again.
The next two chapters focus on tending to the life of the mind and the work of our hands. Smith argues for the importance of both. He warns of the danger of an unprincipled pragmatism and sentimentalism and upholds a vision of critical, confident, creative and compassionate thought. He offers advice on our reading, commending reading old as well as new, reading diversely, reading the material of thought leaders in our field, and reading poetry! He remarks that “effective pastors need to be judged in part by the quality of their libraries.” Yet there is no divide of head and hands for Smith. He thinks in some form, we should all learn to work with our hands, at very least in the maintenance of our homes. He notes that the wise woman of Proverbs 31 is adept with her hands. This leads us to recognize the nobility of all work and manual work often is an opportunity for prayer.
In some way or another, all of us will relate to institutions, to organizations as we pursue our callings. This chapter distills some of the best ideas from an earlier work of Smith’s, Institutional Intelligence. We will never be nearly as effective in our callings if we don’t learn how to work wisely and well within organizations. We also need to understand practices of engagement as well as contemplation. Prayer and work are essential to each other. Smith considers four practices of engagement: hospitality, acts of mercy, financial giving, and intercessory prayer. These are practices by which we know the grace of God in the world and align ourselves with the purposes of God in the world.
The work concludes with a look at resilient hope. A called life is one of resilient hope. It exists against a “backdrop of realism” but refuses “to accept this reality as the status quo.” The hopeful live meekly, refusing to carry resentments. Hope doesn’t give way to cynicism when discouraged but finds in the company of others genuine encouragement. Hope values art and creativity, discovering beauty and transformation in brokenness. And finally, Smith comes back to patience that allows us to be present to God and others in the moment. The final note Smith sounds in the book is a call to both personal responsibilities for our lives and accountability to others. We ask here and now about what we are to be and do. And we recognize that we are inextricably connected with others who discern with us and sustain our hope.
What is distinctive about this work is not merely how we might discern vocation, but how we live in our calling over the course of a lifetime. This book begins where most end and is filled with wisdom for the journey. Smith surprises us throughout, never over-spiritualizing but insisting that calling includes paying the rent, values the work of human hands, and knows how to work in organizations. I can’t think of another book that does this. We often want a roadmap for our lives, our route marked out with a highlighter. Smith gives us something far different, a guide for living wisely and well in the present, discerning what we ought be and do to steward the gifts that the God who loves us has bestowed.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.
3 thoughts on “Review: Your Calling Here and Now”
“Over the course of a lifetime.” I like this and wonder if you think the book would be appropriate for college students as they consider their “calling” from an earlier point in their lives…or maybe for about to retire people too.
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I think it serves both well. The focus on the here and now addresses the fallacy of looking for the “big plan” and the material on transition and on resilience spoke to this reader approaching retirement.
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