Listen To Article
When the early days of May arrive all bright and tulip-y, or drizzling on the bloom laden trees, or wind swept, or coronavirus-clad, I can’t help but recognize the bold and majestic strains of “Pomp and Circumstance” as my background music. It is my May theme song, a regular and rhythmic part of my life cycle. Having been a student for most of the first half of my life, followed by employment at Hope College and then Western Theological Seminary, early May is for graduation ceremonies, the ending of academic seasons, and the beginning of other things quite new, and quite thrilling.
I’ve lingered past too many graduation ceremonies to not know that the next beat in the rhythm prompts two questions. First, there’s “Where are you headed?” And, then, “What will you do?” And so, it has become a part of my own inner life to stumble upon these questions each year as the baby robins are born and the world turns a new hue.
Yes, each year I chew on it. Where has God called me? What is my calling?
This year, in fact, it seems all the more relevant, as I’ve spent a whole school year with the lurking knowledge that part of my life according to Classis is “minister-without-call.” It is a descriptive title based on having a particular job at a particular place, or not, but it does feel strange to think of myself as “without call.” I chew on it.
As I mentioned in a recent post, I walk my dog every day. I am grateful that our dog, Honey, has grown up to be a very good walker. Early on we went through a wide range of different leashes, collars, and other dog-walking accouterments to find what worked best for her and for us. Taking the time to find the right collar and leash is a worthwhile effort in my opinion, and makes for a much more agreeable dog-walking experience. However, having talked to and watched a fair amount of dog owners, I also know that even the finest leash does not necessarily make the dog into the finest walker. Leashes are just the tether, and there is much more to take into account.
Due to the early-May time frame and the regularity of my contemplative dog-walking mornings, I’ve begun to consider it helpful to think about calling like a dog on a leash. Seasons of education are very much like the time that dog owners might invest in locating just the right kind of leash, halter, collar, and so on. And then, upon graduation, one is well outfitted and very much in tune with God, who is, in some ways, like a dog owner. I know, I know. Just stick with me for a moment, if you will.
The idea is simply that identifying and living into our sense of calling has a lot to do with trusting that we are rightly tethered to God.
Have you walked a dog before? Have you seen someone walk a dog? A successful walk is very much based on the dog being connected to the dog-walker. No matter whether the dog behaves, misbehaves, acts happy, recalcitrant, bored, or thrilled, the dog and the owner are in relationship and forging a path together.
Here is an example to consider: in my various tenures as chaplain, mentor, advisor, and friend, there have always been eager and effusive graduates. They are brightly unable to contain the enthusiasm they have about where they’ve been hired, what they will do, when they will begin, and how perfectly it suits them. These are the happiest of dogs, pulling at the leash, noses to the ground, yanking their human along at near-tripped-up speeds.
How about this? Have you ever seen the dog sitting stubbornly on its rump, leash tautly stretched to the owner? They’re both glaring. All the teeth are gritted. No one is going anywhere. Do we ever stubbornly sit too long in a burned out vocation, refusing to see that there’s a beautiful path out in front of us?
As I’ve said, my dog is a good walker and can move along at a pretty nice clip, but she can be a little skittish. Sometimes I clear my throat or scuff the tip of my sneaker on a high bit of sidewalk, and if you watched my dog respond you’d think a plane crashed behind her. She shrinks down and scuttles off to the side. With cowering eyes, she’ll look back at me afraid, confused, and sometimes a little embarrassed. It seems like she thought everything was going so well, and then — woof! — something pulled the carpet out from under her. Or did it?
How about the dogs that like to lallygag and sniff, “read the pee-mail,” as my family is wont to say. Any ol’ dog might present this lackadaisical attitude, one that I’ve noticed partners quite well with a statuesque stubbornness. For these dogs, it is all about a distracting smell, an exciting adventure that seems theirs for the taking — if it weren’t for that darn leash! Oh, those dogs! They deserve a medal for their persistent curiosity as they pursue the next scent, but sometimes too, they need to be reminded that they’re not on the journey alone!
These are just a handful of the ways that I’ve pondered how a dog on a leash might represent me in my journey of calling.
No matter how I behave, because of the leash-like tether of my calling to God I can feel both safe and adventurous, trusting and even happy, knowing that I can only get so far from the path before God tugs me back and directs me onward.
Many of us have our eyes on the next season these days, and for a good abundance of reasons. If you find yourself pondering your call, perhaps you can ask yourself if you’re properly tethered and how you’re responding.
Thank you to Liz Moss, Debbie Rimbo, Katie VanZanten, Terika Raak, Megan Rice, Alison Napp, Dana Daniels and Jen Rozema for contributing wonderful dog-on-a-leash photos!