Katy Sundararajan is the Th.M. Program Administrator and International Student Advisor at Western Theological Seminary, and partners with her husband as an RCA missionary with Audio Scripture Ministries. She continues filling in for Tom here at The Twelve.
I’m reading a novel right now about a fourteen, almost fifteen, year-old boy named Jick who lives in northern Montana. The pages of English Creek by Ivan Doig find Jick pressing through the sticky time frame between strapping, young buck-of-a-boy and independent, grown man. He’s growing up fast, and he’s thinking a lot about life and where it’s gonna take him.
How could I possible relate to this? I’m a 39, almost 40, year-old mom of two, working part time for a seminary and occasionally darting off from Michigan to India with my missionary husband.
I suppose I’m one of the funny ones who likes to think often and well about where God is taking me. I also like to hear about what God is doing in other people’s lives too, gleaning a hint of where God is taking them, (or keeping them.) It was a good fit during the years that I worked as a chaplain at Hope College. Sometimes it seemed nearly everyone at that institution had their eyes cast toward the future, wondering, hoping, and praying that it would all start to make sense pretty soon, and that it would feel good too. I adored those conversations on calling and vocation. I might have some sort of bottomless capacity for being with people in their transition times. My own life story revolves around transition periods when I found myself, came to understand myself better, and developed into my best sense of Katy. Admittedly, transition times can be quite uncomfortable. That is not what I like about them. I like what (and who) grows out of them.
So, really, I’ve been enjoying listening in on 14, almost 15, year-old Jick’s hard-working, real honest, country boy meditations on growing up. He’s a delight. In the middle of a sheep counting journey with his dad, Jick is shocked to be handed off to another near-stranger on the trail, Stanley, whose right hand has been injured en route by a horse with a bad attitude but who still has to visit and bring supplies to three sheep camps. Jick is immediately hurt and angry with his dad for passing him off, not to mention feeling like he is in way over his head. But, as even a boy can tell, there isn’t a single other option to be had, and all the hard work that lies ahead is simply his to do. He is a good, good boy.
This is why I love it when, day two, now on a solo trip up a mountain to one of the remaining sheep camps, Jick gets to feeling good. His thoughts turn near giddy over the great feeling of the experience he is living into. Upon considering the trail and the work ahead of him, Jick thinks, “[It is] a day to stand the others up against, this one. The twin feelings of aloneness and freedom seemed to lift and lift me, send me up over the landscape like a balloon. Of course I know it was the steady climb of the land itself that created that impression. But whatever was responsible, I was glad enough to accept such soaring. Quite possibly I ought to think about this as a way of life, I by now was telling myself.”
Have you had that feeling? The soaring, lifting feeling that, in your deepest place, leads you to believe that you’ve chosen the right path and prompts a sense of certainty that the way of life you’re following is your calling and your vocation combined? That soaring feeling is what I’m after. It is why I ponder and pick at the transition times of my own life. It is also why I would readily give up an afternoon to sit with someone stuck in between two seasons, but asking good questions and casting their eyes to the future to see if they find their heart there too. There is something so richly fulfilling about knowing that you’ve found the right thing to do.
To faithfully address this subject I must, without a doubt, acknowledge that the soaring has more to do with a certainty of one’s calling than to how glorious the work itself will feel. It is just a few more steps up the trail, and Jick’s feelings of euphoria come to a quick halt with a treacherous situation in which a horse spooks itself off the side of the mountain, pack and all, with only Jick there to handle the difficulty of one of the most complicated and scary situations he has likely ever faced. Even this seems just about right when it comes to calling. It is treacherous and scary at times, and a lot of hard work that it only yours to do, and usually right on the heels of feeling really great about doing this work, too.
I stood in church this past Sunday singing a new, favorite hymn of mine, Oh, to see the Dawn (also called, The Power of the Cross.) There is a undertone of strength and fullness of power in the hymn. It builds until it practically sings itself, the swelling of the organ and the voices of the congregation meeting it in deep agreement. Somewhere around the third verse, it builds to this:
Oh, to see my name
Written in the wounds,
For through Your suffering I am free.
Death is crushed to death,
Life is mine to live,
Won through Your selfless love.
This, the power of the cross:
Son of God, slain for us.
What a love! What a cost!
We stand forgiven at the cross.
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Singing that, I experienced a similar kind of soaring feeling, a feeling that matches the one that affirms deep calling in my life. Our first and foremost sense of being comes to us at the foot of the cross, forgiven by the Son of God, slain for us. This is who we are, at best. I’ve had the line , “Death is crushed to death, life is mine to live, won through your selfless love,” running though my mind since Sunday. The power of the cross points us to life.
I believe our soaring moments can recognize each other. There is a certain kind of responsiveness; in the place where we are most fully ourselves, forgiven at the cross, we soar most freely and confidently into our calling. I pray that you might soar upward and onward today.