Recently I found myself in the emergency room with stomach pains.
They had been gradually getting worse through the week so I decided to head in, just in case it was something serious. After five hours of an IV, blood work, x-ray, ct scan, EKG, pokes and prodding, the Dr. came back in and said:
“We can’t tell you what it is, but we can tell you what it’s not.”
It wasn’t life threatening, so I was sent home and encouraged to get further tests with my regular doctor.
It was a little frustrating.
I so badly wanted to know that it was something, even if it was bad. I wanted to know that the pain and eventual anxiety I had been experiencing over the past week was validated with some kind of diagnosis.
It wasn’t cancer, it wasn’t a heart problem, it wasn’t a blockage, it wasn’t a hernia or anything else of significance.
They wouldn’t even guess what it could be, probably because they would have had to say it was just gas and didn’t want to embarrass me.
The words, “We can’t tell you what it is, but we can tell you what it is not” brought more confusion and embarrassment than anything else. I wanted my struggle to matter, to have an answer that could bring me to some kind of fix.
I find myself in this situation a lot.
Not the ER, but living in a state of anxiety and sometimes pain, getting so focused on having the answers so I can fix all my problems, especially when it comes to my vocation. I seem to think if I could only know the “right” answer, everything will make sense and I will start feeling better.
But most of the time life doesn’t give us the “right answer”. The best it can do for us is like the doctors did for me that day—a process of elimination. We don’t know the “right” thing, but little by little, we know what’s not right, and that is better than nothing.
In the seventh grade I was “in love” with Connie Sperling.
She was beautiful, athletic and popular, all things I looked for in a future wife. I was so sure of our eventual partnering that I wrote “J.J. + Connie” all over my Chuck Taylors.
However, there was one little problem: she never spoke to me.
(OK, there were many more bigger problems, but go with me on this.)
I’m not sure she knew who I was until someone told her about the “stalker” with her name on his shoes. Oddly enough, things didn’t work out for us. Turns out that sometimes it takes more than beauty, athleticism and popularity to make a relationship work.
When looking for Mr. or Mrs. Right, some people know exactly what they want and go for it. For the rest of us sometimes it takes trial and error.
When we look for what we are “supposed” to do with our lives, we tend to go through the same kind of process. No doubt some people sense a “call” on their lives from a very young age and never waver from it. For the rest of us, it takes a little longer to discover who we are, what we are good at, and where our gifts lie.
Most of our time is spent on figuring out what our calling is not.
Sometimes that takes trial and error.
When I look at scripture I don’t see God pushing people into specific careers, I see Him calling people to a new way of living. He doesn’t call people to be doctors or lawyers, He calls them to be a specific kind of doctor or lawyer.
He calls them to be one who acts justly, loves mercy, walks humbly with God; is a peacemaker, merciful, righteous, and in all things, loves.
Finding your vocation is less about finding the “right” vocation than it is about finding a job that will allow you to speak mercy, healing and love into a hurting world with the loudest voice possible.
That may take trial and error.
You may spent a lot more time finding out what the answer is not than what the answer is.