The 4 Waves of Calling
What I’ve learned from the lake
I first came to the cabin nearly twenty years ago, amazed at the beauty of Lake Superior, humbled by the hospitality of the family that would become mine by marriage. Years later I brought friends from grad school here on retreat. Gazing out onto the lake in the midst of my own churning discernments about work and family, I caught the metaphor for the first time.
I’ve tested it out for 15 years now, sorting through layers of water and wave whenever I return. More is revealed to me each time. Last weekend on retreat with writer-friends, I watched the memory of the metaphor arise again. We can complicate calling with a thousand questions. But once in a while we can catch the simple flow of who and what we are being and becoming.
Look out onto the lake. Can you find a new perspective?
Four levels flowing and rolling, churning and changing.
First, the surface movements, brushed by wind. Skimming the surface, shimmering in swaths across the open water.
Second, the individual waves. In and out, day and night, ebb and flow, rising and falling through changing weather and seasons.
Third, the larger swells underneath. The rolling curls that carry the smaller waves and send everything crashing onto the rocky shore.
Fourth, the sheet fact of the lake. That there is water here at all. That Someone carved and filled the basin eons ago. That Mercy holds us within like a womb.
You can get lost or found in any of the layers. Stuck on the surface, chasing the running wind. Bobbing with waves upon waves, riding the endless chop. Rolling into the huge swells crashing on the shore, trying to make your way. Or overwhelmed by the vastness: water, sky, you, God.
But you need them all, from surface to depths.
Sometimes the wind races so fast across the surface or shimmers so bright and broad under the sun that you can’t see anything else, distracted by the day’s racing. You have to tend to the details but calling can get caught up here, trapped in surface nets.
Sometimes smaller waves rise and fall along the roll of the deeper currents. The water beckons you to come and see what might be waiting, what this season of work or love might hold. But if you stay in the day’s waves, you might miss the bigger shifts underneath.
Sometimes the curl and crash of bigger waves swallows up everything else. A new season, a string of storms, a sea change you never saw coming. You have to pull yourself up and out to ask where you’re going, where the current is moving now.
Sometimes you have to set aside everything else and remember that the water being here at all is enough. The ancient indifference of the rocky shore countered by the gracious outpouring of a God who gives living water. All our labor is held within this womb, this mighty churn and roll of waters. The wideness of God’s mercy.
Once in a while the fog is so dense that you can only hear the roll of the waves. Crashing water on rock is the sole proof of the lake’s existence. Haze hangs heavy, the upside down mystery of water in the air. Trust becomes the only option, to believe there is anything (or anyone) there.
Other mornings the lake is flat as a mirror: no movement, no wind or wave. Life can calm like that, too, whether the frustration of stagnation or the respite of peace.
But always all four layers of wave and wind are at work, in presence or absence.
Where you pay attention is what matters. What the day demands from you. What rises and falls in your callings’ steady work. What rolls underneath to move you into new places. What beckons from the deep, echoing why and how you are here.
Find your own foothold on the shore, wherever you can look over water.
Can you see it, too, the longer you look?
Your own life, laid out before you. The Creator of rivers and seas, lakes and ponds, oceans and creeks, teaching you through the nature of nature.
Watch your horizon lift. Feel your life settle into perspective. The smallness of you facing the vastness of creation. The wind, the waves, the current, the cavern of the lake itself.
Where does your attention linger right now?
How is the water calling you, deep upon deep?