Re-Thinking Calling and Creativity

May 5, 2014

You’ll Leave with Hope (I Promise)

Nancy W. Carroll

InSpero hosted Kate Harris at a lunch where she spoke on calling and creativity. I loved her. But I also hated her because she stripped away all my excuses. Excuses like:

  • I’d fulfill my calling if my life were simpler, if I wasn’t juggling so many different responsibilities and people in my life. How can I be creative when life is so complicated?  How can I even know what my calling is when I’ve got so much to do?
  • I’d live up to my “potential” (can we just put that word on the top-ten toxic words list?) if I didn’t have so many limitations: time, energy, money, family and work demands, brain cells.
  • I can’t create because I’m too broken, too messed-up, not gifted enough. Because isn’t “calling” about offering what’s best in me—my strengths and abilities—to the world?
Kate Harris, Executive Director, Washington Institute of Faith, Vocation, and Culture
Kate Harris, Executive Director, Washington Institute of Faith, Vocation, and Culture

Kate was a mixture of whimsy and substance, charm and “gravitas.” She lured me in with her dimpled smile and down-home humor. She hooked me with her counter-cultural words.

She began by simply re-focusing our definition of vocation and calling. Vocation comes from the Latin voca (voice, summons) and calling’s Greek root is kaleo (to call, invite, to give a name to or receive a name from). A calling has more to do with identity and belonging than with productivity and duty, being more than doing.

“Vocation,” Kate said, “is a life lived in response to God’s calling.” Emphasis on God’s call and our response.

Kate explained that people traditionally categorize vocation or calling as what you do, what you have the potential to do in the future, and where you have gifts and strengths. She spun this thinking 180 degrees with these challenges:

1. Calling is not just your work. It incorporates all the complexities of your life and all the boringly faithful roles you play.  A calling is comprehensive.

2. Calling is not just a projection into your future potential. It is each present moment, with all its roadblocks. Creativity operates within the context of constraints and limitations.

As I wrote this, I read the feature about Brittany Huber, a young and beautiful deaf artist who died in a car crash the day before her wedding in Mobile, Alabama.

Brittany wrote, "I never let my disability hold me back. In fact, the older I became, the more I realized that being deaf is what has shaped me into the artist that I am today. By being deaf, my visual senses are heightened, and I have learned to become more aware of my surroundings. As a result, I observe and watch everything in sight carefully. It is this careful observation of my surroundings that has allowed me to understand what is going on in everyday life. God created me this way because he wanted me o see how beautiful this world is with my eyes and to understand what others may tend to miss out on.”

At the end of this blog, you can listen to Kate’s audio for some specific examples  of creativity within constraints as well as see links to artist Phil Hansen’s TED talk “Embrace the Shake.”

3. Calling is less about your strengths and powers and more about your passions. Your creative call comes out of your griefs as well as your gifts, your scars as much as your skills.  

This was the first time I left a talk on calling and creativity without feeling guilty that I had already missed it or just plain tired from the “be all you can be” pep rally.

I left with hope.  Because God is doing the calling; it's not me trying to create a "call." And he calls me in the midst of all my rote daily take-me-down tasks, my past and present junk, my limitations, my brokenness and mess-ups. I just have to keep showing up and trusting he’s using it all, even the “slop.” Kate summed up her talk well with a quote from Gerard Manley Hopkins:

“To lift up the hands in prayer gives God glory, but a man with a dung fork in his hand, a woman with a slop pail, give Him glory, too. God is so great that all things give Him glory if you mean that they should.”

Kate is the executive director of the Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation, and Culture, and author of Wonder Women: Navigating the Challenges of Motherhood, Career, and Identity.  

Here’s a link to the audio of her talk to an InSpero lunch.


Additional resources as you consider creativity and constraints: Phil Hansen’s TED talk, Embrace the Shake, and more on Brittany Huber.

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