Shortly before I met my husband, the Lord impressed the following verses on me:
Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.
1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 (NIV)
I believe at that point God was pointing me in a new direction – “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life” – one that I would be called to continue in for an undetermined amount of time, possibly the rest of my life. It was a significant moment and began to totally reshape my thinking.
In the ensuing years God has led me through a time of studying and living out simplicity and all that is connected with it. As a result of those life experiences, I have had the opportunity to speak and counsel with others.
One of my favorite classes/seminars to teach is Calling vs. Clutter: The Joy of a Purposeful Life. Unfortunately, about the same time I started teaching this series a book about living purposefully came out. It seems to me that the whole “purpose thing” has been way overdone so I had to decided on a new title for my series. I decided “deliberate” would be a better word so from now on it’s Calling vs. Clutter: The Joy of a Deliberate Life and I’m hoping that no big name folks in the publishing world decide to create a monopoly on the word deliberate!
What is Calling?
Even if the seminar name has changed slightly, my commitment to helping others live out their calling hasn’t. My simple definition is:
Calling: The life purposes for which God has uniquely created and gifted me.
Each of God’s children has a calling. It varies from person to person, but God has created each of His children with special giftings and purposes in mind. To confidently live out that calling is truly a joy.
What is Clutter?
When most people hear the word clutter, they automatically think of boxes in the basement, knickknacks all over the living room, and the junk drawer in the kitchen. But I think clutter is actually a lot more pervasive than that. My definition is:
Clutter: Anything that keeps me from living out my calling and being effectively used by God.
Clutter can be material, financial, spiritual, emotional/mental or time/commitments. Anything – even good things – that keep us from living out our calling is clutter.
I’m constantly on the lookout for clutter creeping into my life. This month I finally took care of one item of clutter that had been on the “to do list” for several weeks – I cancelled our AOL membership.
Being a member of AOL isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. As I shared previously, I met my husband on AOL so obviously it holds some value in my life! But it became clear to me over several months that being on AOL with its multitude of links to this, that and the other thing tempted me to waste a lot of time surfing online, reading stuff that wasn’t necessarily wrong, but just a general waste of time. So after finally admitting to myself it was clutter, it was time to get rid of it. I find that I do spend a lot less time online now and it does free me up to focus on other things more in keeping with my calling. In this case, I had to agree with this wise sage:
To many, total abstinence is easier than perfect moderation.
Calling and Clutter in Real Life
I’ve written previously about Two Talent Living in a Ten Talent World and how the name of this blog came to be. I’d like to share a few stories that might help others think about these issues in their own lives.
A few years ago I attended a Christian writers’ conference and had the opportunity to meet one-on-one with an editor from the Saturday Evening Post. She looked through my clippings and asked me what my plans were for my writing. I told her I didn’t know – that was partly why I was at the conference. I was doing lots of writing for a corporate client, but I was sensing that perhaps God had other things for me to do. I also explained the various responsibilities I had for my part-time employer that weren’t related to writing. The editor said to me, “Sallie, you certainly have the gift and abilities. You need to write and let other people do the other stuff.” In short, I needed to take care of the talents God had entrusted to me and let other people handle the other things.
It is easy for me to minimize the gifts I have been given. Because writing comes fairly easily to me or I enjoy teaching, I forget that this isn’t the case for everyone else! In fact, more people fear public speaking than death! That’s one thing I just don’t understand, but that’s because God has created me to enjoy speaking and teaching. I have to pay attention to the special ways God has uniquely made me and make the most of them.
I think it is easy for Christians to minimize the unique spiritual gifts that God has given to them because they often seem so natural we assume everyone can do what we do. But that isn’t the case. God puts the body of Christ together in such a way that each part is necessary and special in its own way. When one of us doesn’t do what we are created to do, the whole body misses out.
This was also clear to me one time when I went out to lunch with a missionary friend who was home from Africa. Ruth is a nurse and works in some remote areas where she must learn new languages and deal with all kinds of physical hardships. At the time, I was doing campus ministry at Michigan State University. I said to Ruth that I didn’t know how she could do what she did. She looked at me and said that she couldn’t imagine working with college students! To her, it was easier to go to Africa than work with American college students! I still can’t completely wrap my mind around that one even all these years later. But God had a unique calling for Ruth and a calling for me. We both enjoyed using our gifts as we served the Lord in the ways He had made us.
Making Choices in Line with Our Calling
A few weeks after I taught this concept in a class, a woman came up to me at our weekly ladies’ Bible study. She was sharing with a few of us that someone in the church had asked her to take on a certain responsibility that she did not believe she was gifted to do. She declined and said, “Sallie said I didn’t have to.” We laughed about it at the time, but I was pleased to see that this woman was thinking seriously about her unique calling and gifts and was saying no to the other things so she could freely and completely say yes to the things God had truly called her to do.
Can you imagine the impact the church could have on our culture if people stopped doing all the extra stuff and just focused on the unique things God has for them?