I Wanted a To-Do List, God Wanted Me.

There’s something so appealing about the idea of knowing and pursuing your calling, isn’t there?

Maybe it’s just me who feels this way, but I doubt it!

I think we all want to know that we’re on the right path. And that’s what a “calling” really implies, isn’t it? It’s more than a job or task. Whether your primary work is in the professional world, the home, or some combination of both, we all desire the assurance and purposefulness of being able to say, “I was meant for this, I’m doing what God wants me to do.”

Granted, I’m especially goal-oriented, so the idea of knowing exactly what God wants of me is pretty appealing. If God had sent the 25-year-old me a memo detailing His practical goals and expectations for my life, I might have jumped for joy.

Over time I’ve learned—mostly the hard way—that that’s not really how God works.

What if I told you that pursuing your calling is not really about what you can do for God?

As special and unique as you are, and as much as God loves you, He doesn’t need you to do anything for Him. If He did, he could just send you a memo, right? What He wants, more than any act of service, is your heart. He wants to bring you into relationship with Him.

To hear God’s calling, you must learn to recognize His voice, and there’s no shortcut for that.

Further down I’m going to offer you some practical tips and steps you can take that can help you figure out the nitty-gritty practical stuff, but none of those things can take the place of simply seeking God. So my first and biggest piece of advice is this: spend time in God’s word and time in prayer.

There were times in my life when I heard advice like that and I shook it off:

“Who has the time?” I thought, “I’m giving everything I’ve got just trying to get me and my family and my employees through the day in one piece, and I’m not always managing that very well. How am I supposed to add something to my To Do list?”

I had this idea in my head that “time with God” meant I had to sit quietly somewhere, reading the bible,  meditating, and talking to God for hours. It seemed impossible, and so I forged on for too long snatching bits of bible study here and there, and praying half-delirious, exhausted prayers in bed at night until I fell asleep.

I was doing what I felt I could do, and God loved me through those times just as He loves all of us through our imperfections. But looking back now I can see how my perspective was skewed.

Yes, we could probably all benefit from quiet hours in the bible and prayer every day, I’m not  recommending against that. But I think God takes great joy any time we open our hearts to Him whether we’re offering prayers on our morning jog, or listening to a bible study in the car on the way to work. I had to let go of that “perfect” ideal, and start trusting that God would meet me where I am. And the more I let go of what I can do for God and seek instead to know Him, the better off I am. I’m a better decision-maker, worker, wife, mom, friend, boss, and everything else when my foundation with God is sure.

Reach out for God, wherever you are, however you can, and He will meet you. His faithfulness knows no bounds. Do it. Priority number one.

Now for the practical stuff. Do I take this job offer? Should I marry this guy? Do I go for that promotion? Do I want to have kids? If I do, should I be with them full time? Do I need to work less? More? Is it time to ask for a raise? Time for a vacation? Time to quit?

You can—even without handy memos from God—approach those day to day decisions in a way that honors His will for your life, by conducting thoughtful self-assessment, seeking authentic fellowship, and engaging with mentors.

This is not a to-do list that you can complete and set aside. Think of it instead as a tool box; something you will revisit again and again as you face new questions and challenges.

1. Self Assessment. You are God’s unique (and evolving) creation, and you need to understand the gifts that He has given you. It sounds totally obvious, but most people don’t take the time for this sort of serious introspection. Start by thinking through the basics on your own. It helps if you have some work history to reflect on, but if you’re just coming out of school, that’s okay to. What kinds of work projects or assignments do you like or dislike? What’s your work style, do you like to plan ahead or take things as they come? Do you prefer to work closely with other people or by yourself? Do you enjoy public speaking? How do you feel about meeting new people? When you have a task to do, what best motivates you to complete it?

It helps to refer to some outside references and assessments. You can get a good start from free or nominally priced online assessments like the Kiersey Temperament Sorter or the Career Liftoff Interest Inventory. If you can, I think it’s well worth it to consider paying for a Strong Interest Inventory or a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator evaluation from a career counseling service. These tests are more extensive and it can be very helpful to talk through the results with an experienced counselor. Many college career offices offer such services to their students and alumni, and many corporate Human Resources departments can do the same.

Solicit input from people who know you well, who you trust and respect, and who have had the opportunity to observe you over time and in a variety of circumstances. I’ve found that it works best to ask specific questions rather than open-ended ones. So, for example, asking something like “What would you suggest I focus on in order to have a better chance of success in my career?” might yield more useful feedback than, “what do you see as my strengths and weaknesses?”

2. Seek Authentic Fellowship. It’s crucial to be in community with at least a few women who “get you.” For me, that means other Christian professional women. I was blessed to find a small group of such women early on in my career, and I’m not sure I would have made it to where I am spiritually, professionally, or personally without those women in my life. Having a group of women to walk through life with, who are safe and accepting, and who share and understand my fears, challenges, and joys has been like oxygen for me.

If you don’t have this kind of community, do something about it! There are women just like you out there, and they’re looking for friends too. Prayerfully consider reaching out to a small group of acquaintances with whom you think you might be able to take your friendship to the “next level.” Go to your church leadership. Even if your church doesn’t currently have a group for professional women, church leaders might be able to connect you with some like-minded individuals. You can check here to see if 4word has a local group established in your area.

Forming the kinds of bonds I’m talking about takes time and effort. It can be awkward and uncomfortable, especially at first. Persevere through the awkward stages. Keep showing up for each other. Keep praying. You’ll get there. And you’ll be glad that you did.

3. Engage With Mentors. Be intentional about seeking out—formal or informal—mentors in your life. Good mentors can serve as a kind of personal “board of directors” for you as you navigate the many decisions and challenges you will face. Mentoring relationships can come in a variety of forms, but essentially, a mentor is a person who is more experienced than you are, who is willing to offer you advice, guidance, and support in one or more areas.

If a formal program like 4word’s isn’t for you, consider simply asking someone you know and admire at work, at church, or in the community if they would be willing to mentor you. If you’re looking for help in a specific area, try to make that clear. A busy executive at your company might hesitate to commit if it sounds like you’re looking for a sort of general, 24/7 sounding board. But if you make it clear that you are working towards a specific goal and are seeking guidance and feedback in that area, they are much more likely to agree. I’ve been on both sides of that sort of “ask,” and I can tell you that it makes a big difference.

So how do you discern God’s will for your life?

Seek God first. It’s not about what He wants from you, but about who He is. Learn to recognize His voice by spending time with Him in prayer and in His word. With that firm foundation in place, you can use practical tools to assess your options and move forward with confidence.


How do you connect with God and His direction for your life?

* A version of this blog first appeared at Today’s Christian Woman.