"Tell me about your calling."
"It's not easy to describe. Some years ago my wife divorced me—said I was a workaholic, never truly there for her. I got very depressed and was miserable—could hardly get out of bed, and my productivity as a broker fell drastically. I saw a therapist, took an antidepressant—and that helped—but I still wasn't myself. Gradually, I began to feel that God wanted something else from me, and the idea of becoming a priest came to occupy more and more of my thoughts. It seemed that, for all of my economic success, I had been terribly self-centered and needed to redirect my life. I began to visit with my priest, and, after a while, he suggested I consider studying for the deaconate. I started then and here I am 6 years later a candidate for ordination for the priesthood. I feel like a different person, like God has called me to do what I've been meant to do."
"So, in your early forties, you were very successful as a broker, but after your wife divorced you, you got really depressed, and coming out of that crisis has changed the whole direction of your life. And, although the therapy and medication helped, it was the experience of being 'called' that really turned things around."
"Yes, those are the bare bones of it. Another important part of it, though, is several years ago I met a woman, and she and I love each other and share a deep spirituality."
The middle-aged man went on to describe his severely dysfunctional family of origin, which involved abuse from his alcoholic father, and a history of failed relationships throughout his adult years. Although economically successful, he was without a coherent system of meaning until his emergence from depression appeared to initiate a process of personality reorganization and apparent growth.
As this article is being written I am reviewing the evaluation interviews with 88 candidates for ordination in the Episcopal denomination. One aspect of my semistructured interview format involves exploring each candidate's experience of a calling. At its most in clusive level, a "calling" has been defined as a strong inner impulse toward a particular course of action or duty.1 From this perspective, a calling does not always involve religious vocations; one can be called to other occupations, including medicine. A literature review has revealed that, despite the huge amount of research on science and religion—with significant attention paid to the psychology of conversion—there has been practically nothing published on the psychology of callings.
Thus, there is much to learn. For example, are persons with certain personality characteristics more apt to experience a calling? What is the natural history of a calling? Is a calling a rel atively brief experience or a lifelong part of the self? What experiences over time influence the processes involved in the course of a calling? Questions like these only begin to probe the unknowns about the psychology of callings.
1. Webster's Third New International Dictionary. Springfield, Mass: Merriam-Webster; 1964.
2. Bellah RN, Madsen R, Sullivan WM, et al. Habits of the Heart: Individualism as Commitment in American Life. Berkeley, Calif: University of California Press; 1996.