Jayber Crow and Naming Your Calling

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“The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.” -Psalm 23:1-3

Last April, my family of four returned from the sun-warmed beaches of South Carolina to our home in East Tennessee. Refreshed by a week of sitting on the shore with a book in hand, I tackled the chores waiting for me—washing laundry, filling the fridge, and tucking suitcases out of sight.

As the week passed, my renewed vigor for the tasks of motherhood and homemaking dwindled along with my motivation. “Why keep up the pace when there’s always more?” I thought.

One afternoon, I abandoned the dishes in the kitchen sink and stepped outside the backdoor to look up at the trees, a sea of greenery waving in the wind. Feeling unfulfilled by the mundane work of the day, I sought comfort in the idea that there was more to come—more to learn, become, and do.

For years I had hoped that God would make plain to me the tasks or type of work he wanted me to accomplish. He gave me a beautiful family and fulfilling relationships but I craved clarity about my future. Was God ever going to communicate the specific calling he had for my life? 

I prayed as I had countless times before and asked God to direct me. I longed for another way to contribute to his kingdom work even as I felt guilty for not finding complete contentment in everything he’d already given me.

Standing in my backyard on that April afternoon, my eyes drifted down to the novel I’d left out on the picnic table: Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry. I remembered the lessons I’d learned when weeks earlier I tucked the book into my beach bag, staked out a spot to sit by the water, and relished one character’s journey to understand his calling.

He didn’t agonize over the impact each job would have on his future. He didn’t stay still in one spot waiting to receive supernatural direction. And he didn’t pass over an opportunity because he considered it too insignificant or lowly of a task.

Lisa Dean

When I considered what it would look like to live out God’s calling on my life, I expected events to happen in a certain order. God would make plain his desires for me, and then, with a renewed sense of purpose, I would work to follow his instructions. Before reading Jayber Crow I hadn’t considered that these steps could be reversed. It was many years after starting his job as a small-town barber when Jayber reflected and recognized his calling to the profession. “Surely I was called to be, for one thing, a barber. All my real opportunities have been to be a barber… and being a barber has made other opportunities.”

As Jayber took on the role of barber and later that of gravedigger and church janitor, I took note of what was absent in his decision-making. He didn’t agonize over the impact each job would have on his future. He didn’t stay still in one spot waiting to receive supernatural direction. And he didn’t pass over an opportunity because he considered it too insignificant or lowly of a task.

When God called Abram to leave his home, Abram began packing. God called Noah to build an ark, and Noah got to work. The Bible shows us how God gave certain people special tasks, but I began to wonder how this infrequent occurrence of call and response had shaped the expectations I held for my own life. 

What if, more often than not, God’s people find their calling by looking for evidence of how he has guided them in the past? As he contemplates his life, Jayber would seem to agree: “I have had my share of desires and goals, but my life has come to me or I have gone to it mainly by way of mistakes and surprises…. I am an ignorant pilgrim, crossing a dark valley. And yet for a long time, looking back, I have been unable to shake off the feeling that I have been led…”

I understand Jayber. I’ve harbored my share of desires and goals too, and I join with him in marveling that many of the best things in life have come not as the result of rigorous planning and preparation, but as surprises. And still, I attempt to draw a roadmap from here to contentment. 

Sitting in church, I’ve heard more than one pastor say, “Do you want to know God’s will for your life? Okay, here it is…” Without fail, I sit up straighter and poise my pen to take down the direction I’ve longed for. “…that you give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18) or “…that you should be sanctified” (1 Thess. 4:3) or “…that you act justly and love mercy and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). The disappointment of not receiving direction about a specific college major, job, or mission tends to overshadow the gravity of the instruction I do receive. 

Confessing my inability to control the future or what it will bring, I’m persuaded to believe that how I follow God in the present moment should be of more concern to me than the desire to know where I’m being led.

Lisa Dean

I’ve been guilty of tossing aside the words of wisdom that tell me how to live out my calling. Instead, I search for advice that will help me make plans for what I’m called to do. Reflecting on his life, Jayber recognizes that he has “never lived by plan.” He says, “…when I have thought I was in my story or in charge of it, I really have been on the edge of it, carried along.” Confessing my inability to control the future or what it will bring, I’m persuaded to believe that how I follow God in the present moment should be of more concern to me than the desire to know where I’m being led. 

When his last living relatives died, Jayber went to live in an orphanage. Sometimes he would wake early, set his eyes on the horizon, and see “a good old brick farmhouse with trees and brick outbuildings” that looked “like a vision of Paradise.” As he considered the “beautiful house at the point of the meeting of earth and sky,” he would let his mind go there to “make itself at home.” That point where earth and sky intersect — God crossing over from heaven to human dwelling — is my hope. My mind can settle there and linger on the future that is to come, the life after life, and find solace without a stitch of discontentment. 

I may not receive specific instructions from God regarding the type of work or tasks he wants me to accomplish in the future, but I find assurance knowing I am called to belong to Christ. As I remain in him, I trust that he invites me to join him in the redemptive work he is already accomplishing.

My path may be riddled with blind curves, barriers, and steep hills leading down into pitch-black valleys, but when I pause to contemplate these truths, I find confidence in knowing God is not only with me but that he actively “leads me… He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.” 

If you’ve ever felt lost while waiting for God to reveal his calling on your life, I invite you to join me in this prayer: 

God, I give you my expectations about the future, and you give me daily bread. I trust that you are using my work for your kingdom’s purposes. Even now I can look back on my life and see how you’ve guided me to this point. Help me to remember that my life’s calling — to belong to you and accomplish the tasks you present me day by day — is fulfilled as I follow you. Thank you for giving my life purpose and direction. Amen.

Lisa Z. Dean is a wife, mother, and avid reader of fiction who loves writing to explore the ideas of biblical peace, eternity, and the presence of God.


8 Comments

  1. Colleen Curlee

    This was a gift to read! I just read Jayber Crow for the first time about a month ago and felt similarly understood and convicted by Jayber’s life. Beautiful! I’ve written your prayer in a notebook I use often as a reminder to pray it myself. Thank you, Lisa 🙂 

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