February 2011 - Vol. 47


An Unfulfilled Vocation and the Call to Holiness
By Janice Firn

I recently celebrated my 30th birthday, and as part of observing this milestone I spent some time reflecting on what God has done for me over the last year and the last decade. There is much to be grateful for. In particular I am thankful for my relationships with my family, friends, and roommates, and for my career. The phrase from Psalm 16:6, “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance,” is true for me. If God’s faithfulness to me in the past is any indication of what he has for me in the future, then I have a lot to look forward to. 

However, as a single woman now in my 30s who in the last year saw two of my younger siblings get married, I can’t help but think about my vocation. One of my favorite authors on the topic of vocation is Edith Stein. In her book Woman, she speaks of vocation as three-fold. The first call is the distinctive vocation as man and the distinctive vocation as woman which God gives to every male and female person. The second vocational call is to a state of life – married, single, or celibate. The third call is to a particular area of work. Edith stresses that the most important thing about the three forms of vocation is that each involves being called and the caller is God himself. 

I am confident that in my early twenties I heard God call me to pursue marriage. I’m not yet married, and speaking with other single women of all ages who are in the same situation, I know that this area is difficult for many of us. It seems easier, or more within my control, to shape and respond to the first (vocation as woman) and third (career and work) forms of vocation than to the second (state of life); it is easier for me to work towards being the woman I believe that God created me to be, and to fashion my career. I struggle with how to respond to God’s call to marriage while I am still a single person. 

I believe that even in an “unfulfilled” vocation that I can grow in holiness and love, as the Apostle Paul puts it, “To work out my salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). I believe that God will work in me to bring about holiness and growth in my life even if I am not presently living out my vocation as a married person. The second part of the scripture verse from Philippians 2:12 tells me how this can be, “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” I believe that God is working in and through the circumstances of my daily life. Waiting for God to fulfill this call to marriage forces me to seek him and rely on him more deeply. Saint Theresa of Avila's prayer book contained a bookmark in which she wrote: “Let nothing disturb you, let nothing frighten you; All things pass: God never changes. Patience achieves all it strives for. Whoever has God lacks nothing, God alone suffices.” I am grateful that God is helping me to learn that he is sufficient for me, that he sustains me, and gives me what I need in order to live for him and find my fulfillment in him. I am learning to appreciate more fully that God alone can truly satisfy us – nothing else and no other person. 

It is also good for me to have an area in my life where I do not have complete control over the outcome, where, despite how capable or skilled I might be, I can’t make something happen. Not yet having the call fulfilled also allows me to love others and to engage the world around me in a unique way. Embracing, loving, and serving those around me as a single person open to marriage provides a unique witness to the truth and power of the gospel. To strive to live a chaste and pure single life in the world today is almost unheard of. I think that to live this way is an affront to the devil, a spiritual warfare embodied. Purity and God’s order for human relationships are under attack. To say “no” to the lies of the culture around us and stand for truth by living godly lives are no small things. I believe the eternal and spiritual impact of the way I live my life is hugely significant even if I cannot see the result now. 

As I strive to be the woman God wants me to be, to know and love him and serve my neighbor, to respond to his call in all the areas of my life, I experience the blessing of living inside his will. It is with great confidence that I can embrace Paul’s words, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).” I do not know what the future will hold, but I do not want to miss what God is doing in my life today, to miss his action, or the prompting of his Holy Spirit because I am worried about tomorrow. Therefore, my prayer for myself and all who are in a similar situation is that we would press on to know the Lord and seek him above all else in order to be a blessing to those around us. 

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