Excepted with permission by Simon and Schuster
Agnes Bojaxhiu heard the call twice, first as a teenager, leading her to leave her Albanian home, never to see her mother or sister again, and travel to Ireland and then India to become a nun, and the second time in her late thirties, which set the destiny for which she is known. While traveling by train from Darjeeling to Calcutta, Mother Teresa, as she was known by then, distinctly heard a “call within a call”: “I was to leave the convent and help the poor while living among them. It was an order.
To fail would have been to break the faith.” Mother Teresa found this second call to be particularly difficult, because it required her to leave her sisterhood of two decades for an uncertain life surrounded by pain. She wrote, “I was on the street, with no shelter, no company, no helper, no money, no employment, no promise, no guarantee, no security.” At first she had to beg for food and supplies for her mission, but by doing so she experienced poverty and suffering firsthand. She has been quoted as saying “By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world.”
Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity has grown to more than 5,000 sisters and brothers operating 600 missions in 120 countries. “Where did Mother Teresa find the strength and perseverance to place herself completely at the service of others?” Pope John Paul II asked at her beatification ceremony. This is the kind of question you yourself might ask when watching anyone follow a calling, which usually requires surmounting major impediments. The concept of a calling can be daunting, as many people associate having a calling with being chosen for some kind of divine service.
But you don’t have to be a saint to find your calling. Julia Child was a government spy delivering intelligence documents to agents in the field during World War II. She didn’t enter cooking school until age thirty-six, after her husband introduced her to the sophisticated cuisine of Paris, where they were living. Child describes the culinary revelation when her taste buds woke up as “an opening up of the soul and spirit for me.” She went on to teach cooking to American women in Paris and then, well past the age of fifty, started delivering intelligence about the culinary arts worldwide. You might be called to other more familiar but important jobs: a butcher, a baker, a website maker.
The poet Khalil Gibran asked, “Who can separate his faith from his actions or his belief from his occupations?” The world is full of nonreligious people who feel a sense of purpose in what they do and a deep emotional connection to their work. I prefer to think of a calling as one of three ways in which we relate to our work—with or without a paycheck, either by choice or circumstance: (1) a job, (2) a career, or (3) a calling. There are no other options. If you aren’t currently living your calling, think of someone you know who is truly inspired by what he or she does. Do you admire the spring in his step and the sense of purpose in how he lives? Ask him how he found this calling, and you may hear a serendipitous story of a gravitational pull that drew him to his destiny—as if some kind of invisible guidance counselor had been standing by his side.