When God Shifts Your Call

Have you ever lost sight of your call?

Sometimes I look back at our years of support raising and think about our naivety. We were so sure that the move to Southeast Asia was the right move and we were certain that God would sustain us and show us the way forward in relationship and ministry. This new home we landed in, after all, was the place of our call and there was no plan B. This was it. We had arrived for the long haul with a dream of reaching nationals with the gospel.

Christ glorified among all peoples!

But let’s just say that our first term didn’t end the way we anticipated, and plan A has since been shattered and lost. That language I spent three plus years studying I may never use again. The people, the food, the friends, the ministry, the life are gone and to say I’m crushed would be an understatement. I’m quite near trashed.

I clearly remember the day the call dissolved in front of me and I was powerless to save it. My husband came home after a routine team meeting and took me into the bedroom, locking the door behind him. He was shaking and near tears. “I think we were just kicked off the team,” he said and proceeded to tell me the interaction of the morning. I think my heart stopped beating for a second as I tried to process what that meant. We had worked hard in this place, we had suffered in this place and our ministry was just beginning to take on shape and with the snap of a finger, it was gone. Dreams lost. Hope shattered. Friendships broken. Faith shook.

Within a few days, I had thrown out my back. I couldn’t stand up straight, crawling across the floor to get from place to place, lying flat on my back in pain. Just the physical representation of the emotional reality.

God has shifted the ground under my feet and I have no idea what he is doing or what purpose he has or where he is directing. He is taking me places that I never wished to go and I’m feeling the effects of grief, betrayal, transition, and fear. A lot of fear for the unknown future.

It is so easy to talk about faith in times when faith is not required of us. When the call is strong and resolve is firm. But it is much more difficult to live tangibly in faith when there is nothing to hold fast to. When it feels as if God has left you drowning in the sea, unknown and unloved without purpose. Those easy platitudes and bible verses that were once readily available now raise more questions than they give answers.

I’d like to believe that knowing Christ is my primary ambition in life and that I would be willing to count all else as rubbish. But I don’t. I hold tightly to many things, especially those things that I believe are intrinsic to my faith or value, like my call to cross-cultural living. Still, that is what we are encouraged to do, to count all as rubbish in comparison to the glory of knowing Jesus.

God is shifting my call and in order for me to see it and hear it and feel it, I have to let go of the calling that defined my life for so long. With open hands, I have to admit that this call has only been a step in God’s holy and perfect plan. This call is not holy, in of itself, it is the obedience that makes it powerful and the perseverance within it that forms character and reveals the face of Christ.

But my calling is not my God.

Yet, I often live as though it were. Taking pride in the perceived spirituality of it, believing that my love for God is shown through what I sacrifice and making it the foundation of my character. The more difficult and exotic the location the better. This is why the loss of calling hurts so much because it is a stripping of identity once again. It is revealing the truth of where I have placed my value and it hasn’t been in the hands of God. I have pinned my hopes and self-worth on the distinctness of my call and have lost my first love in the process.

So, while the calling is still elusive, I will view this time as a grace. I will breathe, I will seek, and I will listen. I will listen to the still small voice of God as he heals my soul and provides a new vision. I will remember why I was moved by his call in the first place and gear up to receive the coming steps. I don’t know where he is leading, but I know it will be someplace amazing.

It will be a place I didn’t know I needed to be.

A place I would never have chosen to go on my own.

A place God has already set for me.

Has God ever shifted your calling? How has God provided vision?

42 Comments

  1. Amanda October 2, 2018

    Wow. Powerful. Poignant. Puts words to a lot of thoughts I hadn’t been able to form completely. Thank you for this!

    1. Joy Smalley October 2, 2018

      Hi Amanda, thank you. I’m blessed that the my words resonated with you. Blessings!

  2. Elizabeth October 2, 2018

    Thank you for these words and the reminder that “my calling is not my God”. Just these last months I feel I can dream again. I don’t know where those dreams will lead but I know God is calling me to live well here and now even if it is different from the calling I followed overseas. It’s a process!

    1. Joy Smalley October 2, 2018

      Hi Elizabeth. It is a process! I love that no matter what struggle/difficulty God is having me walk through, he always turns it around. I’m looking forward to a time where I can dream again too.

  3. Ruth Felt October 2, 2018

    I hear the pain and shock of that betrayal and the death of dreams and plans. Your post made me think of part of a recent quote by Sarah Bessey that I loved:
    “The funny thing is that we thought we were “walking away from ministry” when in reality we were simply walking into a new calling: to me, Brian is still a pastor but now it’s in business life and in our home life. He regularly says leaving “The Ministry” made him a better minister of the Gospel. My own “ministry” (if you want to call my work and life that now) flourished outside of the boundaries of our old models of ministry. So did our marriage, so did our kids, so did our relationship with the local church and the global church, so did our friendships, so did our relationship with God, with justice, with creation.
    Anyway, this is a longer post than I intended but here’s the gist: God is bigger and more generous and good than we could imagine. And I wish more people heard that we don’t need an evangelical hero/martyr complex to co-create shalom with God or to be faithful. Maybe a few more of us could re-Imagine our lives devoted to God as an abundance of blessing and wholeness -not only to the whole wide world of strangers around us but also to those very closest to us and our own selves.”

    1. M'Lynn October 2, 2018

      “Maybe a few more of us could re-Imagine our lives devoted to God as an abundance of blessing and wholeness -not only to the whole wide world of strangers around us but also to those very closest to us and our own selves.” I’m so in, Ruth!!!!

    2. Joy Smalley October 2, 2018

      Ruth! This was an incredible encouragement to me, thank you! “God is bigger and more generous and good than we could imagine. And I wish more people heard that we don’t need an evangelical hero/martyr complex to co-create shalom with God or to be faithful.” This was exactly what I needed to hear today.

      1. Pam October 2, 2018

        Thank you Ruth. It’s good to hear that others like you think this way. You have encouraged me today to stay the course.

    3. Shelly October 4, 2018

      That last sentence hits home as my “call” has shifted to caring for my dad back in the US. Living out the abundant blessing of what God gives each day: time with my dad, opportunity to invest in a local body that has only known me from afar as I have lived outside the community for many years, and the offer to enjoy God himself in this new circumstance. It seems to be a slow shift for me, but I think that is to be expected. And I am grateful for the grace to hear words like this, to be responsive, and to turn – little by little – toward the generous and good that God has for me and my family at this time. (Thank you for sharing the post, Ruth. And thank you for sharing your personal shift, Joy.)

  4. Linda Watt October 2, 2018

    Twice something similar happened to us. We thought our first term on the field would be where we would minister for our entire career. Three years and we were told we would return to an area I had struggled in–I could not handle the isolation–and we said no–and the mission said yes or not at all. So we asked to change fields–we remained in the same language but moved countries. It took a long time to come to grips with the fractured relationship with administration in our first country of service but eventually we could see God’s hand. We thought we were called to the first country and were willing to live any where but the place we were struggling in. We felt rejected and abandoned, but we embraced the new country–and learned the language–I felt supported and made friends. My husband was able to help both countries with the translation work and eventually we understood we needed to be obedient and not allow our calling become our god.

    1. Joy Smalley October 2, 2018

      Linda, thank you for sharing your story. I resonated with it and it is an encouragement for me to see how God faithfully takes us from one endeavor to the other. That he still has plans beyond what I can see.

  5. M'Lynn October 2, 2018

    Joy, Thank you for bravely sharing this. You’ve hit on so much I’ve felt as we transitioned away from serving overseas and also I feel like you must have been eavesdropping on my conversations both with my husband and also with friends who have stepped away from their time overseas.
    “It will be a place I didn’t know I needed to be.
    A place I would never have chosen to go on my own.
    A place God has already set for me.”
    Your words remind me to give thanks for the place where he has us now. It’s definitely a place we never planned to be, but we now we see the needsof this place and God’s hand in it all.

    1. Joy Smalley October 2, 2018

      Ha ha, M’Lynn, maybe I was eavesdropping😉. There are so many conflicting emotions in this type of transition. Believing that he is taking us somewhere awesome keeps the heart beating and the breath coming. Gosh, our God is really cool.

  6. Katie October 2, 2018

    Joy, thank you for so bravely sharing your story. You have put into words what I have been unable to express for the past few months with my transition back to my home country. I am eager to be able to dream deeply with Jesus like I once had years ago when I followed that call. Life is full of seasons, many full of unexpected twists and turns. It is a process of stripping of the things that we have tried to cling to that remind us of who He desires for us to be and calls us to become. Thank you!

    1. Joy Smalley October 3, 2018

      Hi Katie. I agree that life is a stripping. Just when I think I understand, God pushes and prods deeper to reveal more of himself and more of myself. I don’t generally like it at the start, but by the end, God wins me over. I will be praying that God gives you opportunity to dream as you process through your transition back “home.”

  7. Janet Graham October 2, 2018

    Hello Joy, what a story and it brought back many devastating feelings, but also memories of God’s faithfulness in every single detail.
    Years ago, I had to return to my hometown as a single mother of 3 very young children (aged 1, 2 and 8) — after 14 years in Asia, – when my husband left me. A completely different sitation from most, as we were expats and I became a Follower a year after arriving in our first country. Then I became very active in national ministries and prayer initiatives.
    Dealing with betrayal and rejection were the toughest, but I also had to face that sense of loss of my calling to Asia (or so I thought). I wondered how He could ever use me again – forced to move back to the States. I grieved not only the loss of the marriage, but the loss of my identity – which was falsely based in being a foreigner living in an Asian country, and NOT as a daughter of the living God.
    I clung to my life verse Acts 17:26 that helped me to move and settle in 4 different countries over the years. My personal version is “He determines the exact times and places where man should live….” and the official version is “and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation,
    Acts 17:26 NASB
    https://bible.com/bible/100/act.17.26.NASB

    Blessings,

    1. Andrea Baker October 3, 2018

      I love that verse you shared, especially so in the context that you’ve interpreted it. Thank you.

    2. Joy Smalley October 3, 2018

      Hi Janet, thank you so much for sharing your story, you have experienced many cumulative losses and for that, I am sorry. I love the verse you shared, “He determines the exact times and places where man should live…” Indeed, he is not surprised or disappointed in us, he is moving us and placing us where he wants us to be. I love seeing God revealed. Thank you!

  8. Lori Ferrell October 3, 2018

    Good post! Having experienced something similar before, I am grateful that YEARS ago a friend reminded me “you are called to a relationship with God, not to a place”. She spoke this to me because I was trying so hard to get overseas. Eventually I did go overseas, but then there have been several times that my husband and I found ourselves back in the states. And we questioned “what are we called to?” I would remember my friend’s words in these times, even though it didn’t feel “good” to be back in the states. Sometimes I’m not even sure we have a clear sense of what He is calling us to. Sometimes he is just inviting us to trust and wait. And waiting is hard. We just came through a season of long waiting in the states (4 years) in which we really had no idea what would be next. We are back overseas now, and even though we came with a dream/vision, I am still reminded that I am called to God and the dream/vision may not actually be the reason we are here. And it may never happen. God is my reason and I continue to be reminded to not put the calling first. It’s not easy. Prayers for you as you step into this messy time. And I pray you can sense His nearness, even when the path only lights up one step at a time.

    1. Joy Smalley October 3, 2018

      Hi Lori, I think I need to steal that mantra for myself. You are called to a relationship with God, not a place. You know, I also appreciate that you haven’t always had a sense of calling and how difficult waiting can be. Yet, it reveals my own desire to be important. Thank you for your encouragement and your prayers.

  9. Stacy October 3, 2018

    Very relatable, Joy!

    I am back Stateside after 10 years in Asia with my family; in our case the government asked us to leave. We are grieving, and processing questions about identity, calling and next steps. Very little is clear except God’s goodness and the charge to “view this time as a grace.” We are pressing into relationships here, even though we feel vulnerable and awkward.

    Thanks for sharing your story. It takes courage to do that (as Amy Young says) in “the messy middle.”

    1. Joy Smalley October 3, 2018

      Hi Stacy, I’m sorry that you have experienced your own loss. It is so painful. Reengaging in relationships stateside has been the single most healing thing we have done. It is amazing to see God’s people come alongside us and comfort us as his hands and feet. I’m praying the same for you as you put yourself out there. God is so gracious to us.

  10. Bes October 3, 2018

    Yes! Having recently experienced a sudden expulsion from Nationals we worked with for more than 15 years, I can resonate. The loss of identity, the loss of job,the loss of friends and “family”, the helplessness as many we worked with have to continue there under the poor leadership… Now I am trying to settle in a new country and learn a new language and culture and find a new fit. I am thankful for the support our org gave through counseling and time to heal. A friend reminded me that Paul wanted to preach in certain areas of Asia ( Acts 16:6-10), but the Spirit shut the door. In the end Paul had a new work in a new continent! Bible stories like Joseph and Ruth tell of heart breaking experiences which God used for His greater plan. The process is not fun, within it is a lot of grief which will always be there, but I know God has a plan.

    1. Joy Smalley October 3, 2018

      Hi Bes, I am so sorry that you have been forced to leave your home. It is a helpless feeling and a confusing one when God’s plan looks unnecessary and unwise. I hadn’t thought about Paul’s desire to go to Asia and having the doors shut on him, thank you for sharing that, it is an encouragement to me. This process is anything but fun 🙂 I love that God allows us to live in the tension between current pain and future hope.

  11. Katie Rosenbaum October 3, 2018

    Joy,

    Yes. Oh, all these words. So much needed truth. I’ve meditated a lot on the word calling and the Biblical definitions of it. I’m walking with a friend now through those scriptures. All God is tearing down is purposed to bring a new building. A new perspective and definition and I love what you said about viewing this time as grace. A time to let God speak into our hearts instead of speaking the words we’ve always believed about calling over ourselves in guilt. Yes. Thank you so so much for sharing this. It is something so many need to hear. Including myself.

    1. Joy Smalley October 3, 2018

      Hi Katie. Yes! I agree, God uses these circumstances to tear down the beliefs held that are false and holding us back from a deeper understanding of God himself. I’d love to hear more about what you’ve gleaned from scripture on calling, it is hard to know how much church culture has informed the definition for me. May God bless you as you walk with your friend through those scriptures.

      1. Katie Rosenbaum October 3, 2018

        Thank you so much! I’d love to share it with you. As my friend and I have started digging in, I’ve felt the Father leading me to somehow share it. Would love to connect! My email is [email protected]. Thank you for replying & offering blessing over this time with my friend.

  12. Hensie van der Merwe October 3, 2018

    Joy, first I have to mention that I pray that the Lord will lift you to live up to your name during your transformation and healing… so – Our team leader just quit without warning. He also happens to be the leader of our partner organization with whom we have worked so closely that it was hard to see where what organization works. The result was having the door literally shut in my face at the start of a prayer meeting we used to attend together with our partner organization, all our office belongings dropped out in the hallway and not one word of explanation… Since 2013 I have poured myself into this organization’s ministry with orphans, at risk kids, kids with various disabilities, IDP’s … into mentoring relationships with the younger ladies on their staff, into financial development, reports, training…
    And now – I have thrown my back out… also in pain unable to stand, sit or lie down for relief, having no desire to go to the local doctors and self medicating…
    I feel loss, rejection and need to lead our team with my husband – some of whom have truly been betrayed since they used to lead projects and teams for this organization and have been pushed aside without even a thank you for five years of service.
    But … I see something happening in my husband through all of this. He has almost been freed to now follow the calling on His heart, to steer our team in a direction his prophetic heart sees the Lord leading us toward,,, I see him now after years of being shackled by this partner to a ministry that his heart could not connect to – dreaming, envisioning and casting vision into our pretty broken team.
    Yes, I am hurt, our team is suffering, but I see the hand of the Almighty, being the Almighty… My eldest daughter is called Nadia, which means HOPE, my middle child’s name means “God will be the Judge” and my Youngest’s name means “Victory”. When I look at the past years and to their names and circumstances of their births, I see how God has prepared us for what lies ahead.
    So Thank you Joy for sharing … I so needed your story to reflect on the current events of my story …

    1. Joy Smalley October 4, 2018

      I’m praying for you Hensie, I am so sorry that you are having to walk through sudden loss right now. I pray that your back heals quickly, it is so painful and immobilizing. I also believe that as one shift occurs there opens up new opportunities for growth and experience and dreaming that would otherwise be unknown. Thank you for sharing your story with me and bolstering the kingdom with it. Blessings.

      1. hensie van der merwe October 5, 2018

        Thank you so much Joy.
        This is such an amazing unexpected ‘connecting’ for me. My back is so much better today:)…

  13. Jennifer Ott October 3, 2018

    All the yeses and Amens to this. I find my identity so wrapped up in what I do rather than Who He is. The changes are so hard, especially when you feel you have sacrificed and made hard decisions to follow the call. I find myself questioning everything now: if I was so wrong about His will for my life before, how can I ever be sure? How can I ever know what the right decision is? Slowly He is teaching me to just keep going. And He meets me there.

    1. Joy Smalley October 4, 2018

      Hi Jennifer. Yes! It is so hard not to question wether we followed the right call or not, or if we had made a wrong decision. I do believe it is about remaining faithful to God and making decisions in the moment, believing that God is directing us in the process. No fear of wrong choices as we put one foot in front of the other. I have been learning that God is more gracious then I imagined, that no matter the choices, I’m not missing out on his best for me. His best for me is his presence and that follows me everywhere, without condemnation. Blessings.

  14. Shan October 3, 2018

    Thank you so much for your thoughts! I too have been meditating and questioning my (our) understanding of “calling” in missions and Christianity — or maybe that “calling” has more possibilities and nuances than I was taught. I am now meditating on being “called” to relationship, to love, to obedience, to go and make disciples, to glorify… And like your thought “my calling is not my God” so I have been contemplating that the One Who Calls is most important… I also think many times of Biblical examples, of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, etc. — that they listened to the One Who Called, they obeyed and journeyed. And yet many times they did not know Where they were going or What it really looked like… My calling, if I define it as in what I do or where I am, may change — but I follow the One Who Calls and Who is trustworthy in the Journey of my life. Even when I do not know what or where, yet I can listen, wait, and/or take one step. I am not diminishing anyone’s calling nor is this a succinct idea yet — just my contemplations, my experiences, and what I have observed in others over the years. Thank you again!

    1. Joy Smalley October 4, 2018

      I love your perspective on this, Shan. We follow the One Who Calls, we don’t follow the calling. It is a small shift but a profound one. Thank you for sharing!

  15. Janis McArthur October 4, 2018

    Hi Joy, thank you so much for sharing. I understand how you feel as I have had a similar experience when I was serving in Laos five years ago. I felt God’s call to go and thought this is where I am going to stay. After one semester of teaching English I started having medical problems. The doctor said this is a not minor issue and can’t be treated at the clinic. He advised me to see a specialist at the nearest hospital in Thailand. Laos did not have the medical staff or facility to treat what I had. So off to Thailand I went to have a major surgery and recovery. After about a month, I went back to teaching at my school. Little did I know that this was the last term I would serve there. . After coming back to the US for summer break, I started having panic attacks, anxiety, and depression. It seemed that the stress of learning a new language, developing new relationships and roommates, teaching English to very low level English speakers and medical issues took a huge toll on my physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental health. I did not know what God was doing. I thought I heard his call on my life. I ended up having three months of intense counseling at a wonderful center who specializes in overseas workers. It has now been five years and in hindsight I see God working through of all of this. If I had stayed in Laos, I would not have seen my daughter get married and see my first grandchild. I would not have been able to spend time with my father who lived to be 97 years old. It has been five years now since I have served overseas and now God is calling me into a new season. I still feel God’s call on my life but I have new perspective. God’s call has many facets which I didn’t realize. I am able to serve at my local church in a prayer ministry which I have seen many answers to prayers. He has given me opportunities to share His love. Finally I feel that I am ready to serve again overseas this summer teaching English. We don’t know why things happen the way they do, but I do know that God does and we don’t always see things right away. He has to teach us and mold us and change us into what He wants us to be. We just to have to keep holding onto Him, trust Him and believe that He knows what He is doing.

    1. Joy Smalley October 7, 2018

      Thank you Janis, for sharing your story. It is one of both heartache and God’s grace. I love what you said about God’s call having many facets, I think that this is so true and is what I am learning now. That the call is not a one and done, but is a lifelong call of relationship with God that can take us many places, all of which are in his will. God Bless You!

  16. Ellie October 8, 2018

    “This call is not holy, in of itself, it is the obedience that makes it powerful and the perseverance within it that forms character and reveals the face of Christ.” yes, this. Oh wow, and it’s hard.. and we don’t always “get it” – the “why” – at the time or after in some ways but I do believe that it *is* this perseverance in it all that ultimately forms our character and makes us more like him and makes us better fit for different purposes we couldn’t have foreseen or predicted.

    1. Joy Smalley October 9, 2018

      Hi Ellie! It is so hard to understand the ‘why’ of God yet there is a peace that comes in the knowledge that he is developing us for a coming purpose that we can’t see. Sitting in the wait is so hard.

  17. sarah October 9, 2018

    Joy, I’m really sad to hear you’re going through such an incredibly hard and unexpected situation. A prayer for you and your husband:
    “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

    1. Joy Smalley October 9, 2018

      Thank you, Sarah, for the verse and the prayer 🙂

  18. Erika Sawatzky October 13, 2018

    I can’t imagine how difficult this must have been! For three years, I have been avoiding the thought of leaving the country where my husband and I work. For now it seems God wants us where we are but i know that in corners of my heart I am afraid to explore, my identity is linked with what I do. Thank you for the reminder that my obedience to God is holy. Not my “call” or my “work” alone. May the Lord bring you peace as you lean only on Him.

  19. IstanJules October 15, 2018

    I had carried so much of my identity in being a “stayer.” Everyone else might come and go, but not I… no way.
    Bombings. Stayed.
    Depression. Stayed.
    Coup… ok that one was close, but managed to Stay.
    I’d become arrogant. I’d become judgmental. I’d become very, very lonely.
    Then God’s voice came to us saying, “GO.”
    I clicked on an article about repatriation, and three words in I nearly had a panic attack.
    I was no longer a Stayer.
    Even writing that now brings painful tears and a lump in my throat. It’s been not quite three weeks since we arrived in the states. We have no idea where we will end up beyond the in-laws basement.
    My hubs and I had just had a conversation about which current option looked most promising and arrived at the conclusion that they were all equal. This post hit me perfectly between the eyes.
    It will be good. It will be green pastures and quiet waters. It will be the boundaries laid out for us in advance.
    Thank you for listening to the Spirit and sharing your story.

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