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Episode 3 Beauty and Calling

Welcome to the Loved Called Gifted Podcast this is your place to come for musings about spirituality identity and purpose.
I’m your host Catherine Cowell.

This episode we are going to be thinking about life purpose, and looking at it through a particular lens. And today I would like to have a look at that through the lens of beauty.
I realise that is not the most obvious place to come at this from, so let me give you a bit of an outline of where we are going to be going.
We are going to start by thinking about beauty, why it is not shallow, and then looking really at how that connects to our deepest identity, and therefore how we can get to calling through that.
This probably isn’t something that you think about too often, but actually we are all drawn to things that we find beautiful. That is what makes it a good lens through which to look at purpose and calling.

I first became aware of this really, reading and listening to John O’Donohue, and he has written a particularly good book called “Divine Beauty” which is subtitled the invisible embrace. And what he says in that is that there are two spiritual movements that we notice in our times of kind of deepest connect and spiritual awareness. The first movement that he identifies is that of awakening, that sense of coming alive. So I am a Christian, and on days when I feel most connected to God, when I feel most alive, then I do get that sense of awakening and enlivening. And if you think about it I am sure that you have come across that too, when the world feels brighter and lighter, when the things that you want to do kind of flow, and you have that sense of kind of unencumbered energy coming from you. I remember talking a number of years ago to a friend, and on the night that he became a Christian, he said that walking home he felt like the world had been steam cleaned, and like he had been steam cleaned, and there was this real sense of sort of coming to life.
If you want a less spiritual example of that, I do not know if you have seen the film “Despicable Me” but there is a scene in that where Gru has fallen in love, and suddenly there is just this awakening and coming alive, and he is sort of dancing through the streets, and smiling at small children, and there is that kind of sense that he has gone from being this sort of closed in not very alive, fairly grumpy person, to somebody who is suddenly awakened and full of life, because of that kind of falling in love. And we all have moments like that.
So that is the first movement, that sense of spiritual awakening.

And then the second major sort of movement if you like that we notice within ourselves spiritually, is that of surrender. And that is something that Buddists really attempt to get to through their meditation and things, that sense of kind of non detachment, of allowing the world and the universe to do what it is going to do, a place of tranquility and acceptance. So as a Christian, it’s those moments when you stop telling God what you think God ought to be doing, and instead you get to that place of surrender, and acceptance.

So those are our kind of two major spiritual movements if you like, that movement of awakening and coming alive, and that sort of - what can seem like an opposite movement in some ways, although I don’t think it is opposite - of surrendering and allowing things to be what they will be. The supreme example of that sense of acceptance is Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane where having argued and fought with God about what is about to happen, and having done the kind of asking - you know - “is there not any way this cup could pass from me?”, Jesus then comes to the point of saying “not my will but yours” and there is that surrender. And in that, even when things are difficult there is a sense of peace, a sense of kind of allowing things to be as they will be.
So those are two movements - that awakening, and that surrender. And John O’Donohue makes this observation about beauty, he says, “that in the experience of beauty we awaken and surrender in the same act”. And when I read that it just made sense, it is completely true. If you think about it, imagine a moment when you are listening to some music that you find beautiful, you get that sense of both surrender and peace, but also enlivening, that awakens something very deep and very ancient in us. So this is what he said, “you can slip into the beautiful with the same ease as we slip into the seem-less embrace of water. Something ancient within us, already trusts that this embrace will hold us”.

There are ways I think in which modern life has, maybe made us a bit suspicious of the idea of beauty, particularly if you think about the way that it kind of connects with the fashion industry and objectification and that sense that we should not just be looking at the outside of something, the kind of surface beauty of it, because that makes us less able to see what there is underneath. And then of cause there is all that we see, particularly in the fashion industry, and celebrities, usually it has to be said famous women, who are doing their best to maintain an outward beauty in a way that actually is harmful, so the whole thing that you would go and get a surgeon to cut into your face in order to try and preserve an outward appearance of youth. Or within the modelling industry the people who, I think this has improved a bit, but the people who would become thinner and thinner and thinner in order to try and attain some sort of outward ideal of beauty - that kind of thing makes us suspicious, and makes us move away from what is really beautiful. And actually something doesn’t have to be perfect, we know this, in order for it to be beautiful. But it is not just the worlds of celebrity and fashion, and our concerns about the objectification of women that has made us suspicious of beauty. In face in our religious life over the last few hundred years, there has been a suspicion of things that are beautiful. So if you think for example about the protestant reformation, much of that was about saying where churches had been built in order to be beautiful, there was something somehow suspicious about that, and there was so much desecration done to some great works of art, and some beautiful churches, because of that desire to remove that, kind of outward display of beauty that was seen as being inappropriate. And that is deeply tragic actually, because as we are exploring here, there is something about beauty that connects to something very very deep and ancient within us. We are meant to be creatures who respond to beauty I believe, and we know that we do. We know that beauty is something that just touches us deeply.

It is worth taking a moment here I think, just to think about what we mean by beauty, and it is not simply the outward appearance of something. There are all sorts of things that can be beautiful, you will know people who are beautiful because of their character and who they are, and the way that they approach people. You will have listened to conversations that are beautiful just because of the graciousness that there is between the people involved, and there will be things that you are drawn to that you find beautiful because they connect with something that is about who you are, and that beauty isn’t necessarily a kind of classical beauty that we sometimes think of when we think about things like works of art. So we are taking beauty here as having a really wide broad meaning, but all the same I would really like to emphasise that there is nothing shallow about being attracted to something that is beautiful, it is how we are wired, it is how we are made.

And that is why I think it is such a helpful lens if you are wanting to think about, well what is my life purpose, what is it that I am put on the earth to do? Rumi [Jalāl al-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī] says this; “Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground”.

So that is my first invitation to you today, is to begin to think about, and start to notice what is it that you find beautiful? Because what you find beautiful will be different to what other people find beautiful. And one of the ways of starting to spot that I think, is to look out for those moments when you get that sense of both awakening and surrendering in the same moment that sense of both coming alive and finding peace all at once. And just think about what is it, what are the moments in your life when you spot that, when you see that happening, that is worth thinking about because it will be connecting with something deep about who you are, and will be giving you some clues about what are things that you are drawn towards in this world and that gives you an idea of what your here for, what your purpose is, what you are called to create within the world. And I love that last line in that Rumi quote, that there are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground, and what I love about that is that sense of reverence and awe, that you are kind of doing something holy, because you are doing something beautiful, that you are doing something sacred because you are doing something beautiful. And what you find beautiful, as I say, will be different to what other people find beautiful in some ways, although there are somethings obviously that will overlap, but that is the thing to look for, the thing to search for within yourself. What are those moments when you find yourself connected to something that is beautiful?

So I think what might be helpful at this point is to give you some examples of some of the things that I find beautiful, and tell you a bit about how I think that links into to my own life calling, and that might help you a bit as you begin to observe this in yourself.

So one of the things that I am always inspired by is seeing people who are doing something that they are really good at, and that they enjoy doing, and you kind of see that, not only is this something that they are naturally good at, and have an aptitude for, but also awakes something of a passion within them. So thinking back to my days training to become a speech therapist, and this was sort of more than 30 years ago, I can still remember, watching one our lecturers doing a speech and language assessment of a young girl, and simply seeing the way she was able to engage the child and her mother, and ask the right questions, and notice all kinds of things that were going on for this young girl in terms of her speech and language, and make notes of the whole thing at the same time, and was then able to talk to us about it afterwards. And I just found the whole thing really beautiful.
On a similar note I really love conversations with people who are passionate about what they do. Conversations like that I can remember for years. An example of that would be going to an event for Church leaders, quite a number of years ago now, and got chatting to the woman who was doing the catering, and she talked about how much she loved cooking for people, how much she loved hosting them, and creating nice meals for people. She said, “it is so wonderful doing this job I get to feed the people of God”, and that struck me as really beautiful.
So in both of those examples you will notice that something that I find beautiful really connects with something that I do, that I sense I am called to do, and that is about helping people to understand what their calling in life is. And in my own work, some of the kind of goose bump moments for me are when somebody notices that something about themselves, that they sort of dismissed as almost trivial or irrelevant, they suddenly realise is valuable, and beautiful, and has something to offer the world.
So one of the first Loved Called Gifted courses that Sean Kennedy and I did, in fact the very first workshop that we did, there was somebody there who spoke absolutely passionately about really loving to have people at her house and to host them and make them nice meals, and she didn’t care if she didn’t drink all evening, so long as her guests well fed and well watered. But when we asked people to think about what were the things that gave them life, she couldn’t think of anything, and I reminded her of this conversation we had had at the beginning of the evening, about her hosting of dinner parties, and I said wouldn’t that go in the ‘these are things that give you life’ column, and her response was “well isn’t that just my guilty pleasure?”. And as we spoke it became clear to her, as I sort of challenged her on that, that actually what she was doing was a really really good thing, that it was not something that everybody could do, not everybody is keen on having people round their house, not everyone can host in that way. It is something that offers something really beautiful, and really good actually. And so she kind of left with a renewed sense of who she was and what she did, some of things that she thought were not really important, were important, and had value, and that left her with an increased sense of ‘actually I have something to offer’ that is really good. And that was a wonderful wonderful moment, and I have never forgotten it, and I have spoken about it before, but there again is an example of something that I find really beautiful. And the fact that I find it beautiful is definitely linked to the fact that this is something I am called to do.

Here is another one alone the same lines, I love questions, a lot of what I do is sort of in the realm of coaching and when you are coaching somebody, you are not telling them what to do you are asking them questions that will help them to explore and to understand for themselves. And so those moments I absolutely, love those moments when I ask somebody a question, and that gives them space to think, and then you kind of see the cogs whirring, and somebody discovers something or something comes to their awareness about who they are or their situation, that opens a window that they hadn’t spotted before and I love those moments. I love questions that make you think. When I read the gospels one of the things that I find really beautiful is the fact that Jesus asks people questions, and I love the fact that he asks them questions much more often than he gives them answers, and there is this sort of ah-ha moment that happens, and I love the ingenuity of it, and I love the space that it gives people, I love the respect that there is in questions, that enable people to think and have space to think. I find watching people who are good at listening, I love that, I find that really beautiful. That just inspires me, and it touches something deep within me. I suppose one of the things I find most beautiful in life is seeing people connect with God in a way that makes sense to them, and it is no surprise that one of the things that I do is spiritual direction, and I feel that is something that I feel really passionate about. And just little snippets of conversation where you talk to somebody and they have a renewed sense of who they are being precious to God, as their identity being precious, people having space to explore and express their spirituality and their relationship with God in a way that is not judged, I find that really beautiful. I was involved in sort of leading, or facilitating, something called ‘Church without walls’ for a number of years, and one of things that we did was we invited people into our space, and I recall a conversation with somebody, it was kind of very informal, and there was tea and cake and sandwiches and things, and I recall seeing somebody sort of hanging around outside on one occasion, and I went to have a chat with him, and he was struggling with drug addiction, and life was particularly difficult for him, and we had a bit of a chat, and I said he would be very welcome to come in for a cup of tea if he wanted. His response to that was that he didn’t think he was sort of worthy, to come into something which was a church building, I mean it wasn’t a church building - it was just where we were meeting, but he didn’t think that would be ok, and we had a bit of a chat, and he did decide that he would come in and have a cup of tea. And in that moment there was a welcome and hospitality, and you could just see the chink that said ‘well maybe this would be alright for me’ and that was a really beautiful, beautiful moment, and I just love that. I love conversations with spiritual direction clients, people who are on a journey when you know that someone has moved a bit closer to the point of understanding that they are unconditionally loved. That is just fabulous, beautiful, wonderful and so I love to do those things, I love to be part of those conversations, it feels like an honour, well it is an honour, and a privilege, and a deep deep joy to do those things.

So those are just a few examples of some of the things that I find beautiful, that definitely link with what my purpose is in life, and I could give you myriad other examples of different things that link to who I am and what I am called to do. I think if you spend some time just noticing those moments when that happens for you, that may well give you some clues about what your calling is, and if you already know what your calling is, then you might just find it lovely, lovely confirmation of that.

Moving on to looking at the whole beauty thing from a slightly different angle. I want to talk a little bit about the fact that actually some of what we do is not about doing things that are beautiful, but it is about sorting out things that are not, dealing with that are ugly - where there is brokenness and wounded-ness - where there are things going on that we think shouldn’t be, and we want to do something about that. Here again actually taking this theme of beauty can give us some really good pointers to what it is that we might want to be doing. So if you find that you have a real heart connection with some pain in the world, perhaps it might be something to do with the environment and the way that we have been treating the planet, or it might be to do with the fact that you see some people not getting the education that they think they ought to, or perhaps the way that women are treated, or there might be something about seeing people who are homeless or who are hungry, or observing poor nutrition. There are lots and lots of things that we see that are not beautiful and that we would like to see sorted out, and we can have a real sense of calling to do that.
I love this quote from John O’Donohue, what he says is, “when we address difficulty in terms of the call to beauty new invitations come alive”.
So here again we are taking this theme of beauty, but this time what we are saying is, when you are in a situation where you are wanting to see change in something that is ugly and difficult and full of pain, then one way of approaching that is to say ‘well what is the beauty that I want to see?’ rather than simply looking at the pain that surrounds us, and the thing that we are angry about. Actually what is it that we would like to see, what is the beauty that we would like to see instead? What is the beauty that we would like to see this situation called towards? And that might give us some really good clues, and actually could breath some life and some joy into the thing that we are doing in terms of sorting something out. I really love this idea of addressing difficulty in terms to a call to beauty, I really do think it can potentially open up new vistas, and new ways of thinking about something.

So there we have it. There is life calling and beauty, and I really hope there have been some insights there that will have been useful to you. And remember that for many of us understanding our life purpose is a matter of putting together a number of different jigsaw pieces, so if this jigsaw piece is helpful to you then use it, and if it is not, well there will be other jigsaw pieces that are more helpful to you.

It has been a pleasure, thank you.

Hope you enjoyed this episode of the Loved Called Gifted podcast. If you’d like to get in touch you can e-mail, you can find a transcript of this podcast at and that is also the place to go if you are interested in the Loved Called Gifted course, or if you would like to find out about spiritual direction or coaching.

Thank you for listening.

[Theme music “Nice View” by Crowander, produced by David Szesztay CC 2019, please visit for more information. File accessed at and used under creative commons: non-commercial with attribution].

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Episode 1 Introduction

Welcome to the Loved Called Gifted Podcast this is your place to come for musings about spirituality identity and purpose.
I’m your host Catherine Cowell.

So before we get going properly with the Loved Called Gifted podcast, it would be a good idea I though to set the scene and tell you a bit about what to expect, and what the podcast it about.
The aim really is that the podcast will do what it says on the tin, it will explore what it means to say that we are all Loved, Called, and Gifted, and will give us opportunities to think about how we can live more and more in the reality of that truth.
Cards on the table, I’m a Christian, and as a Christian I believe that a fundamental truth is that there is a divine love a the centre of the universe, and that we can all ultimately identify - derive our sense of identity and worth from the truth that we are loved.
If you are not a person of faith then that might not your reference point, but I think that we all have a sense that everyone, every single person is precious, however we understand that, and however we would express it, that is a shared sense ‘that every human being inherently has value’, is something that we all hold in common. I think in particular we get that sense of life and of people individuals being precious, particularly at the beginning and end of life. I’m just thinking about the preciousness that there is in a new baby being born, the deep love that that child’s parents will have for them, and also the great grief that we have when we loose somebody who is loved and who is precious to us. So in both the beginning and the end of life I think we all get that sense that everyone is precious, we all have worth and value, and we all inherently know that really actually our being gives us value and preciousness before we even do anything. If you think about a new born baby, they haven’t actually contributed anything to the world or the economy at the point when they are loved and adored. So we are all loved, we all know that our being is valuable, and I think we have a particular sense of being reminded of that, some of us during lockdown, I know that for some people that period of time was just incredibly busy, but for others of us we were kind of brought back to a space where there wasn’t very much to do, and we were simply being, and there was a sense for many people that in that slowing down there was a reminder that there is more to life than the stuff that we do. However we all also gain purpose from the things that we do. We are called or drawn to certain things to make a difference in the world. There are things that excite us and give us energy, and we all have gifts, talents, personality traits, experiences - all things that uniquely equip us to make a contribution in the world.

In case you are curious maybe it would be helpful to tell you a bit about me. So I am a spiritual director, I am also a life coach. I really enjoy facilitating and nurturing spaces where people can come as they are, bring their whole selves to a place with a conversation without fear of judgement, spaces where people are free to explore what they think and what they feel and who they are. I am also the adopted mother of a couple of boys, and I have in my experiences as an adoptive parent, I have seen what it is to live with the legacy of … trauma, actually … and the difficulties that that brings, and that has given me some more insights into really identity and some of the difficulties and the hiccups that we all sometimes face in life.

So these themes of lovedness, calledness, giftedness run through everything that I do both in my kind of professional, if you want to call it that, life, and also in my calling as a mother. I think these are fundamental themes that we all find ourselves encountering in our journey through life, and I find them endlessly fascinating. That question about how do live more deeply in the truth that we are precious inherently inherently, that we don’t need to strive to become worth something. How do we connect with the divine? Because that is one of the ways that we really link into that sense that we are precious. How do we live in the truth that we are in a society where we don’t automatically give people, on a societal level, we don’t automatically give people value simply for being. There is the phenomena isn’t there, that people are labelled by what they do, by what they contribute to the world, sort of the quiz show phenomenon, everybody is introduced with a name and a profession or a role. And there is that question isn’t there about what do you hold onto when you don’t have a profession to put after your name. Then there all those interesting things about how do you take that journey towards discovering your passion and your calling, and the gifts that will help you to get there. I am also really interested in the barriers that there are within us and around us to all these things, so we will be uncovering and exploring some of those in some episodes. So I think there is lots to explore.

I first used the term ‘Loved Called Gifted’ as the title of a course that I created alongside my colleague Sean Kennedy, that course is now available online at it is also available to run in person, whether you want to do that yourself, or whether you would like somebody to come and facilitate it, and you can contact us on the website at if you would like to find out more about that.

So one of the purposes of this podcast actually, is to explore some of the themes from that course in more detail. There is lots to explore beyond that as well, so we will be riffing around these themes, sometimes in conversation with people who know a bit about it, sometimes people sharing their stories and their wisdom, probably some more reflective conversations, so I am expecting that this will be a really eclectic mix. I have already recorded some episodes; there is a conversation with Sean Kennedy about identity and life experiences and how those impact on our ability to feel loved; we have a chat with someone called Rachel about the challenges of living with mental health difficulties, and how she has found her way to a job that she absolutely loved; there is an episode where I am talking about some of the myths about calling, that Christians in particular sometimes find themselves tripping over; just planning at the moment some conversations with my friend Polly, who is absolutely passionate about how understanding personality can help us to understand both ourselves and one another; and just this week I recorded a session with somebody called Lizelle about spiritual direction and how that has helped her on her spiritual journey.

So I hope that there is going to be some stuff in there that is going to be of interest to you, I am hoping that you will find some inspiration and some food for thought, so welcome to the podcast. You are always welcome to get in touch, I would be really interested to hear your thoughts, maybe you have some knowledge or a story to share, or if you would just like to say what you think. If you are interested in the course, or if you would just like to get in touch you can go to and I really hope that you enjoy the podcast and get something out of it, and of cause if you don’t there are lots of other people doing other podcasts that you are bound to find fascinating.

Hope you enjoyed this episode of the Loved Called Gifted podcast. If you’d like to get in touch you can e-mail, you can find a transcript of this podcast at and that is also the place to go if you are interested in the Loved Called Gifted course, or if you would like to find out about spiritual direction or coaching.

Thank you for listening.

[Theme music “Nice View” by Crowander, produced by David Szesztay CC 2019, please visit for more information. File accessed at and used under creative commons: non-commercial with attribution].

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Episode 2 Calling Myths

Welcome to the the Loved Called Gifted Podcast. Your place to come for musing about spirituality, identity, and purpose.
I’m your host, Catherine Cowell.

0:00:15.3 *Introduction*
This episode of the Loved Called Gifted podcast looks at the subject of calling myths. Now if you have never been part of a church community and you wouldn’t call yourself a Christian, and your not concerned about whether or not God has called you to do something, if that is not your frame of reference, then probably you don’t really need to listen to this podcast.

However if you have been part of a Christian community for some while, then there may well be things about the way that you see God, and the things that you have heard about calling, which could be getting in your way. So these are the things I would like to spend some time looking at today.

There are a number of ideas about calling which we can pick up along the way that actually make life harder rather than easier, things that make it more difficult to work out what it is that we sense that God is calling us to do. So in this episode we’ll take those things in turn, and have a bit of a think about each one.

So lets kick off, calling myth number one:
**What ever God wants me to do will be terrifying.**
Lots of us find ourselves really stuck by this myth, we get paralysed by the idea that if we pray about God’s call on our lives we will be told to do something absolutely terrifying.
We sort of think that the test of our faith is how prepared we are to do something that really relies on stepping out in faith and trusting God, and being prepared to do something really big. I suppose that comes from the idea that if we are “good christians”, in inverted commas, we are going to be prepared to do things which are really sacrificial, and difficult, and that is sort of a proof of our faith.

But let's take a step back from that and think about what we are actually saying. We are saying God as a parent would want to terrify his children.

There really is no evidence that it is God’s plan to make us terrified. No good parent would want to do that. If you were to meet somebody who was to say to you,
“Actually what I have decided is that in order for my children to prove their love to me, I am going to find something that each of them finds utterly horrifying, and then I am going to ask them to do that thing, and that will give us a real proof of their level of love and commitment for me.”
Really? That isn’t it is it? In fact it is quite the opposite. And no-where in the bible do we find the instruction to be afraid. So why would God ask us to do something terrifying? And where do we get that idea from in the first place?

I think one of the key stories in the bible where we get the sense that maybe God would want us to do something really difficult and scary is the story of Joshua leading the people into the promised land. If you are familiar with that story then you will probably remember that at the beginning of the book of Joshua, Joshua is receiving his instructions from God about going into the promised land, and taking that land for the people of Israel, and lots of times in that sort of conversation between God and Joshua, God says to Joshua “be strong and courageous, because I am going to be with you as you lead these people to inherit the land”.
Now why might you think that would actually be a slightly scary thing to read? Well I have heard quite a-lot of sermons, and you may well have done as well over the years, where someone stands at the front and talks about Joshua’s courage in the face of a really difficult situation, and what I find myself thinking is well could I lead a whole bunch of people into a land knowing that there was going to be war and conflict and all sorts of difficult things happening? The answer to that question is no I wouldn’t want to do that, and I wouldn’t feel competent to, but then I am not in the situation that Joshua was in.

I think we do this quite a lot, we take the stories of somebody who has done something difficult and scary for God, and then we think about would I be prepared to do that? Often the honest answer to that question is “well no I wouldn’t” but actually that is ok because that won’t be what God is calling you to do. If we take the case of Joshua, if you think about his story, one of the things we know about Joshua, is that it was he, along with Caleb, who had been prepared to go into the land of Israel and fight. It was Joshua and Caleb who came back saying “we can do this guys, we can walk in there now” it was the other ten spies who had gone to see the land who said we really don’t want to do this it is absolutely terrifying, this isn’t our thing. If we think about Joshua and who he was, we already know he was somebody who felt comfortable about going to war in the land of Israel because he was the one who had wanted to do it 40 years before. So it is a scary prospect, he is going to need courage, but this is in what you could refer to as a fulfilment indifferent Joshua’s stretch zone, and I will explain that a little bit more in a moment. In fact for Joshua, this isn’t an absolutely terrifying thing, quite as much as it is the fulfilment of a dream that he has been waiting to see for filled for a very very long time. So from Joshua’s perspective the prospect of walking into the land with an army is actually quite an inviting one. For you and I it doesn’t need to be an inviting prospect, because that’s not what God has invited us to do, and I think therein lies the crux of the matter.
We are all different, we all find different things difficult and scary, so that comes back to the idea which I am going to talk a little bit more about now, and that is the idea that we all have stretch zones, and comfort zones and panic zones. So let me explain that a little bit more.

If you imagine yourself in the middle of a set of concentric circles, and in those circles are the things that you might want to do, around you will be the things you do easily and comfortably, things you don’t give a second thought. The obvious example of this might be if you have been driving a car for I don’t know, maybe 5, 10, 20, 30 years, then tactually getting in your car and driving somewhere is easily within your comfort zone. This is something that you have learnt to do, it is something that you are able to do, you can do it without a second thought.
If you have just passed your driving test, and you haven’t been driving very long, then it might be more in your stretch zone, so it is something you are able to do, you can do it competently, but actually it does still require a bit of an effort in terms of building up your courage to do it, so you can do it but it is not that easy. Or if you have been driving for a long time, and you go to France or America and you hire a car, and suddenly you are driving a car on the other side of the road, that too will probably be in your stretch zone. It's a bit difficult.
But imagine someone says we would like you to drive this large articulated lorry from here to Skegness, and then we would like you drive down some slightly tricky windy roads, and deliver this large selection of tempered glass to a new building on a hill. That, for most of us, would be within our panic zone. That is not an easy thing to do, it is not something we are trained to do, and actually that would probably be stretching us beyond our limit.
So all of us have comfort zones where we can already do the things, and we can do them comfortably and easily, then we have a stretch zone, which is usually in the realm of the kind of things that we care about and we would like to do but which is going to be a bit difficult and demand something of us that is beyond what we have done before, and that is where Joshua is in our story. He is a warrior and he’s done this before, he understands the territory, he knows the people he is going to be leading, he has been training under Moses for quite some while, so this is something which is in Joshua’s kind of group of stuff that he is into doing. It is in his 'familiar' if you like, but it isn’t going to cause him to be panic stricken.
Things in our panic zone are those things, like the example I gave you a moment ago of driving the truck somewhere really difficult, those are things that actually cause us a great deal of stress and worry and panic.
When you are being asked to do something which is in your panic zone, then something quite interesting happens in your head. You move from the situation where you are doing logical thinking, where you are able to think cooly and calmly, and you move into a situation where you go from logical thinking to what could be called red brained thinking. Let me back up a bit here.
We have two different modes of thinking. The first mode of thinking is what you could refer to as green brain thinking when your frontal lobe, the part of you that does the calm the logical thought is engaged, and we do that most of the time actually, and that is when you are able to empathise with other people, and make plans and act sensibly, and you are able to be rational. Then we have another more primitive part of our brain, which is designed to help us if we are in a situation of imminent danger. That you could refer to as red brain thinking, so that is the thing that kicks in if you are suddenly in an emergency. That’s when if you are a cave man, it be the sort of, there is a bear coming out of the woods run now. And it is in red brain thinking that we are in when we are in our panic zones.
Now the point about red brain thinking is that actually when that is what you are doing, you are not able to think clearly and logically, you just can’t, because that part of your brain actually shuts down, the logic bit shuts down because you don’t really want to be thinking about logic and consequences if there is a bear coming at you. You don’t want to be thinking about how we might make a rational plan, you just need to run. So if we are being asked to do something that is way outside our stretch zone, into our panic zone, then most of our cognitive faculties are no longer available to us, including, and this is really important I think, our ability to have empathy and love for other people.

So if you think about what it is that we are meant to be doing in the world as Christians, we are suppose to be sharing God’s love with other people, and if we are in panic mode we can’t actually do that, we can’t show empathy, because what we are looking at is our own survival. What that leads me to think is that God’s aim for us is that we should be spending most of our time in our stretch zones, and in our comfort zones, where we can actually share God’s love with other people, where we can do things that make a difference in the world. So this idea that God is going to ask us to do something terrifying, well I don’t think we actually find that in the bible, I don’t think it makes logical sense, and it doesn’t make sense if we think about who God is as a parent. What that tells me is if you are worried about what God might ask you to do, or what God might be calling you to do, because your thinking that this is going to be something that is absolutely terrifying, then I would say you can take a deep breadth and have a sigh of relief, because that just isn’t the case.

Lets move onto our second one:
**Don’t tell God you don’t like hot weather or curry or he will send you to India.**

I wonder if you’ve ever heard something along those lines. Often it is a sort of “well God’s got a sense of humour and he will be getting you doing something you don’t want to do” although that would seem like quite a sick sense of humour to me.
We can often get this idea that as a test of our faith God will ask us to do something that we really really don’t want to do. Again when we begin to think that is how God works we are really having a very very warped view of God’s loving parentage.
Or think about what it means to be a loving parent who wants to help their son or daughter find the right career. What you don’t do under those circumstances is talk to your son who is really into accountancy and numbers and business and wants to become an accountant, what you don’t say to them is “I think you enjoy this too much, what I suggest that you do my son or my daughter, is go and join a jazz band, because I know you hate jazz and you detest the saxophone, and therefore I think that is the thing that you should with yourself, that is what you should do with your life. Go and find yourself a jazz band and learn to play the saxophone!” That would be absolutely ridiculous, and we would think if that was a human parent just how nuts and crazy that would be.

Actually we can trust that God loves all of us as individuals, he knows that we have different passions and gifts, because God has made us with those passions and gifts, so the things that we love to do are actually a really big clue to our calling. We do not need to be afraid of listening to the things that we love to do, we do not need to be afraid that God is going to call us to something that is really against our nature and that we are going to hate. We can be confident that if we are going to hear God speak to us, one of the ways we are likely to speak to us is through the things that we love.
In my work as a coach, and running the loved called gifted courses, there have been quite a number of occasions when I have had conversations with people who have something which they are passionate about, and enjoy doing, and which therefore completely dismissed as something that God would want them to do.
On one occasion it was a conversation with a woman who absolutely loved having people at her home and hosting them. Creating lovely meals for them, and looking after them, feeding them with wine and food. She spoke to me about her love of hostessing people and cooking for them and looking after them in that way, earlier in the session I was running, and then we got to the section about thinking about what God might be calling you to do, and then she was sort of a bit lost, so I said, “well you were talking about how much you love having people at your home and hosting them, and I wonder if that might be something that God is calling you to do” and she said to me, “oh no no no, that is just my guilty pleasure. That isn’t what God would be wanting to call me to do”. So there was something about the fact that she loved doing that, that made her think that would not be what God wanted her to be doing, rather than seeing the fact that she loved it, was a really big clue, that that was part of her calling, part of who she was.
On another occasion I had a conversation with somebody who was really passionate about reading and literacy and who volunteered with the local library project. She was working with a group of people, and together they were setting up a community library in her community. But she didn’t see that as part of God’s calling for her, because it was such fun, because she loved it so much. And she actually said to me, “that is not my calling, because I love that, that is my guilty pleasure”. Same words, different situations, same principle, two people who had things that they were doing which they absolutely loved, and instead of seeing those things as things that God was calling them to do, because they loved them, they thought that probably that wasn’t what God was calling them to do. God could not possibly be calling them to do something that they liked.
It is a very warped sort of theology that. Actually one of the things you can know is that if you love doing something that much, not only is that something which God is calling you to do, but it is worth remembering that there will be people who don’t love doing that. There are lots and lots of people for whom helping to set up a community library would feel as if it was very very boring. There are lots of people for whom having people round for dinner is just a nightmare, it's not something they want to do, it's scary and its terrifying, it possibly puts them in their panic zone. So it's good that there are people who love to these things, and those will be the people that God has put on this planet to do them, not the ones who will find it difficult and dreadful.

There are people who spend their lives doing things that they don’t like doing out a sense of obligation and duty, because they think that they ought to. And in doing so they quite often occupy positions that other people, who do actually like the things that they are doing, and the things that they are holding onto for dear life, or dear death, and those people are prevented from doing those things, because there is somebody carrying on out of duty who doesn’t want to give them up.

If you are doing something that you don’t like doing, if it is wearing you down, if when you do it you end up feeling drained at the end of it, then maybe it is worth thinking perhaps that is not part of your calling. And if there is something that you love, and you are walking away from because you think ‘well God wouldn’t ask me to do that’ then maybe it is time to take another look.

In all these myths there is a grain of truth, so you will probably occasionally have met people whom God has asked to do something that they didn’t want to do, or thought they wouldn’t enjoy. But when you hear more of their stories what you hear often, is that in doing those things, in stepping into them, they discover something about themselves that had previously remained hidden. They find out that they really do love the thing that they ended up doing. So to give you an example, I have a friend who insisted that he would never ever want to perform or do drama. Now to anyone who knew him that was a bit of a puzzle, because he was fairly obviously somebody who would do well at that kind of thing. He was very good at telling stories, he told them with joy and passion and a great deal of expressiveness, and then a friend of mine was doing a sketch for Easter and needed somebody to play Jesus, and she thought our friend, Tom, would be the perfect person to play Jesus. And so she asked him to do it. Tom did not think this was a good idea, Tom said he was absolutely terrified, and he didn’t like acting, and he wasn’t going to do it, and he didn’t want to do it. My friend was a pretty convinced that he was the right person and was very insistent, and in the end he did it, performed brilliantly absolutely loved it, and immediately looked for lots of other opportunities where he could try out some more acting. I do think God had pushed him through my friend to take up this acting role, I do think that was something that God wanted him to do, and it was actually in the doing of it that he discovered something new about himself, that he wouldn’t have known before. So there is a grain of truth in that sometimes God might ask you to do something that you hadn’t thought of, or something that doesn’t look on the surface as if it is something that you would like to do, but that is the exception rather than the rule, and it will be because there is something in you that will be attracted to that thing very likely, particularly if it is a long term thing, and not just a ‘well something needs to happen, or something needs to be sorted out now’ and it might not be a pleasant thing, but somebody just needs to do it. You're calling, your life calling will be something that suites you, something that is designed around who you are.

Next calling myth:
**Only the stuff you do in Church really counts.**

It is unlikely that someone will have specifically said to you that the only thing that God calls people to do to is the stuff that they do in church. However this is a message that is often given to people, not necessarily directly, but it is often given to people kind of subtly, that the things that matter, the things that really count are the the churchy things. Well that doesn’t make a-lot of sense dose it, because actually what we are called to do is to make a difference in the world. We are called to make this world that we are living in a better place, a place which is more full of God’s love (a place where God’s kingdom of righteousness and love and justice is coming) is being seen more and more evidently. So it would make absolutely no sense for God only really to be calling people to do things in church. It makes much more sense that our calling is often going to be in the work place, in the community, in fact it is probably the exception rather than the rule that God calls people to do stuff in church. However the way that Church is organised there is often a concern to make sure that the work of the church continues and goes forward, and so often the emphasis will be on the things that done in, and that are organised by the church communities that we are a part of. A fairly typical scenario, and this is a scenario which is often used, but is still worth sharing, is the example of the Sunday school teacher who is regarded as being called to do her work with the Sunday school on a Sunday morning for 40 minutes, but who also works as a teacher in her local school. And her work as a Sunday school teacher might be something which is praised and thought relevant, and her work as a Sunday school teacher might be regarded as a Christian thing - a thing she is doing for God. Whereas her work as a teacher in school might not be seen that way, it might be seen as a job that she does, but not something that people are asked to pray for her about. Or maybe you might be somebody who works as a doctor, who works very very long hours, and then is looked at with a certain amount of judgement because you don’t manage to get to all of the church stuff - because you are actually for-filling your life's calling somewhere else.

Another calling myth which it is worth taking out and shooting is the idea that:
**We have no choice in God’s plan.**
*That it is our job to listen to what it is that God is telling us to do, and then go along and do it.*

Actually our life with God is much much more of a partnership than that. We do have a free will and if you do have a Christian understanding of life and salvation then you will know that actually God went to some considerable lengths to make sure that we did have free will. So it makes sense then that God will want us to listen to our own selves and what it is that we're wanting to do, we are not just going to be in the process of receiving orders and moving forward. And in fact quite often people have stories of God making it clear that they have a choice about what to do. My friend Sean (with whom I have written a couple of books) came to a point in his life where he needed to decide whether or not to move forwards with a PhD he was doing or about to do, and after several months of thinking and praying and talking to people and hoping to hear God speak, he eventually heard God say very clearly ‘it’s up to you’. I also heard someone say once, and I think this is very true and worth holding onto: that what God wants us to become is good decision makers.
God’s will for us is that we grow as people. If you have small children then very often you need to make lots of decisions for them, because they are not able to make those decisions for themselves. Decisions about what to eat, and when to eat, and when to go to bed, and what to wear - because they might not be very aware of what kind of things you need to wear when it's snowing as opposed to when the suns out. There might be all sorts of small decisions you need to make when your children are very small. But as they get bigger, and as they grow into adult hood, more and more you expect them to take decisions for themselves - that is what it is to grow up and to mature. And so we can trust that God wants us to make our own decisions, that God is with us as we plan, and that our free will, and our opinion and our hearts desires matter.

Ok Next calling myth:
**if you take a wrong turn you will miss out on God’s best.**

This is something that is often said with a certain amount of menace and threat, the idea being that if you make the wrong decision and you go the wrong way, that you will have missed out somehow on what God wanted for you. I love the story of traditional Persian carpets.
Traditional Persian carpets are designed by an artist, and then it is made by hand by a carpet weaver. Sometimes the carpet weaver who is following a plan made by the designer will inevitably make a mistake. And then in traditional person carpet making, the designer would never ask the carpet maker to unpick the carpet that she had made, instead the carpet designer would see it as his privilege to find a way to adjust his design to incorporate the error of the carpet weaver, with the carpet being at least as beautiful as originally intended.
And I think that is a beautiful picture of the way that we walk with God. Of cause we sometimes make decisions that it wasn’t a good idea to make, and it may well be that God had a plan, and that we have strayed from it, but we can trust that as we walk with God, that God will help us, and God will be with us creating something beautiful, even if it isn’t exactly the way that it was originally intended.
It sometimes occurs to me that given that God is infinitely wise and great, and wonderful, and can do amazing things, then even if you take literally the idea that there is a ‘God’s plan A’ and a ‘God’s plan B’ for your life, and that you might miss one and be on the other, God being God, you know I don’t think I’m really that unhappy if I’m on God’s plan C or D or F or H or Z.2 for my life. If God is making the plan then it is going to be pretty good anyway isn’t it. If God is infinitely wonderful then I am not sure that any plan is going to be that dreadful. There is that often over used verse in the bible about all things working out for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purposes, and I think a good way of seeing that verse is to say that whatever happens, whatever decisions we make, God has a way of redeeming those things and bringing out the best. So we do not need to panic because often what that panic does is it makes it very difficult for us to make good decisions. It makes it very hard for us to make decisions because we kind of get stuck in this idea that maybe we are going to go the wrong way, and make the wrong decision, and that everything is going to fall apart, or that we are going to get things wrong and that God is going to be cross with us. We can trust that as we walk with God, God is going to help us make good where we are at. So do not worry if you are thinking “I have made so many foul ups in my life, I have gone wrong so many times, I’ve missed out on God’s best for me’ because God will make the best out of whatever situation you are in. I think that is what redemption means.

Next one:
**I’ve not been a Christian long enough to have a calling.**
This is not true. There may be some things that you are not ready to do yet, but God still longs to partner with you to help you to grow, and to share God’s love with the world in whatever way. There are a number of churches that have over the years had policies around how long somebody needs to be part of the Church before they can volunteer within the church, or what kind of statement of faith or belief they need to sign before they can do something, or even what sort of sexuality they need to have before they can be a volunteer, and often if you’re part of a church which also has a view of calling as being something which happens within, and facilitated by the institution, the organisation, then quite often those sort of things can leave you feeling as if you don’t have a calling unless those things are in place. And actually this is wrong at a number of levels. Firstly quite obviously, we all have a life calling, that is not dependant on which statements of belief you have filled in, or how long you have been part of the church that you are part of. God’s call is bigger and wider and broader than that. So if you are worrying that you have not been a Christian for long enough, then you don’t need to worry about that, it is fine.
The other end of that myth is another myth which is:

**It's too late, I am too old, I cannot possibly be called to do anything now.**
If you are using age as an excuse then it is time to stop. Obviously there are some activities that are time limited, you might be too old to begin your career in the fire service, or to for-fill your dream of becoming an olympic athlete. But age also brings experience and wisdom, and if you are still breathing you can still partner with God to bring his love to the world.
I love the story that I heard on radio 4 (which is where I get much of my wisdom) there was a woman in her 80’s who was acting in the West End in the theatres there, and she told the story of how that had come to be. What had happened, is she had had a desire as a young woman to act, then along came the second world war, and she found herself in the situation where she was both being asked to serve the country in a particular capacity within the second world war, and she also had an opportunity to do some acting on the stage in the West End. And she said that she had an interview with someone from the government, from the intelligence services, who said to her ‘Well the West End will wait, but the war won’t’. And so she did what she was being asked to do. Then she got married and ended up spending the next few decades of her life bringing up children and being a good wife, and then when she was in her 80’s her husband died. And a friend of hers, and I really hope that when I am in my 80’s I have friends like this, a friend of hers came along and said ‘Well what are you going to do now? You can’t just sit around on your bum all day!’. And so she went back to the dream she had had when she was a-lot younger, and she trained to be an actor, and that was what she was doing when she was sharing her story on radio 4. So it really isn’t too late, there will be things you can do, there will be a calling that you can have, a way that you can touch the world.

Here is another one, and we have sort of touched on this in other ways already:
**It can’t possibly be God’s calling if you are having fun.**
There are times when people dismiss the very thing they are gifted and called to do, as not being from God, because they enjoy it and they believe that Christian service should be a sacrifice and difficult and unpleasant. And they think that if they are doing something that they like then it cannot possibly be the thing that God wants them to do. And actually as we sort of already talked about, the opposite is true. When we do find the thing that we were designed to do, what we tend to find is that it is satisfying, and enjoyable, and actually it is much easier to pour our energy and commitment into something that we love, than into something that makes us miserable. And let's face it if we are pouring our energy into something that makes us miserable, then we are likely to spread some of that misery to the people around us.
We all know what it is to be around someone doing something that they love. From that comes an energy and a joy and a light. So find the thing that you love, because there will be something about that which will be something about who you are, who you were made to be.
So the fact that you love something, and it is good fun, is more of an indication that it is something that you are called to do than that it isn’t.

Now this next myth is quite a subtle one.
**It is the myth that the need is the call.**

I have heard people say “if we spot a need, then God is calling us to do something about it”. That sounds very noble, and there is an element of truth in it potentially, which I will come to later, but actually it is not that helpful for a number of reasons.
Firstly there is an ocean of need in the world, and we all know we cannot possibly respond to all of it. Trying to respond to all of it is a recipe for guilt and exhaustion.
Secondly it is no the approach that Jesus took. He did not heal everyone, he did not feed everyone, sometimes he moved on from places - even when people were asking him to stay-put. So we know from Jesus life that he was looking to do the things that God was calling him to do. He wasn’t looking to meet every-bodies needs.
Thirdly, not every calling is actually connected to meeting obvious need. You might be called to write or to paint or to play the violin, and these might be things that make life better for everyone. It is very difficult to argue that your community needs violinists.
There is I think a truth in the statement that the need is the call, in that - and in this very specific way, that we are often more sensitive to needs that relate to our calling. So for example if you have a call to work with lonely elderly people, it might be that the needs of lonely elderly people are the ones that you notice. If you have a call about helping single mothers who are struggling on low incomes, then those are likely to be the things that pull at your heartstrings and that you notice. So your call is likely to influence the things that you spot. If you have a call as a musician, then it might be that you notice the quality of music education in schools, and it might be that you think somebody should be doing something about that. But it is kind of the other way around in that instance, in that the call that you have in you, is helping you spot the needs out in the world that are connected to your call. The myth that I am talking about, and church leaders can be particularly guilty of this, is where somebody is saying to you - you need to go and meet that need, because we can see there is that need in the community. And it is unhelpful, partly because it can be drawing you away from the thing that you are called to do. And also partly because some of us find it very difficult to say no, so if you are starting from the basis that you know what God is calling you to do because you can see the need, well if you are somebody who is sensitive and empathic and really has a tendency to care about what is going on in the world - and if you are somebody who finds it difficult to say ‘no’ - then saying that the need is the call is an instant recipe for burnout.
Sometimes somebody is saying, ‘well the need is the call, and I’m spotting this need and you need to go and meet it’ because actually what they are talking about is their calling, and what they asking you to do is to join in with their calling. Well unless it is your calling too, then that is not what God is calling you to, if that makes sense.
So in summary, your calling might enable you to spot needs that other people might not spot, because it is coming out of who you are and what your calling is. But just spotting a need does not necessarily mean that you are called to do anything about it. And I think if you are somebody who finds it difficult to say ‘no’ - who finds it difficult to see somebody in need and walk away, then you need to exercise particular care, and particular wisdom, because actually the needs that surround you could become completely overwhelming, and could draw you away from the things that God is calling you to do.

Ok so moving onto our final couple of myths one is that:
**We only have one call in life.**

And actually that’s not true. The stories that people tell of knowing that God has called them to a particular thing are often told by people who have a very strong calling to one thing in their lives. We can have this sense that if we are called by God it is going to be dramatic, it is going to be very clear, and that will be the thing that we do for ever, where as actually it is often much more complex than that. As we grow and mature and change and experience different things, so our calling shifts and changes with us very often. It is very often the case that we are not called to simply do one thing in our lives, but a number of different things and that sense of call will shift and change over the years. So it is worth continuing to listen and explore, and listen to your heart and what your hearts desires are. It may well be that the thing that you are called to now, the thing that draws you now, wasn’t drawing you ten, fifteen, or twenty years ago, or even last year.

And the last myth to take out and shoot is the idea:
**That God chooses some people and not others.**

There has often been a sense that there are doubly chosen people in the Christian world, who have been chosen not only to be christians, but also to do something for God. And that is often connected with the fact that we tend to see callings that are connected to church, such as a calling to become a vicar, as the best kind of calling, a kind of primary kind of calling. And then we think about everybody else's calling, maybe a calling to run a business, or to foster children or to be a mum, or a decent grandma, as sort of secondary callings that don’t count as much - and quite often those things fall off our list of what it means to be called by God. Often that sense that some people are called and not others is rooted in poor self-worth and a belief that God wants other people and not us - as I have said that is just not true - it is not just ministers and missionaries and special people who are called by God, everybody is. We all have a calling and a difference we can make in the world.

So there is my brief romp through some of the calling myths that can get in our way. And what I would suggest, is if there are some of those things that have resonated with you, and you know that you have been stuck by in-the-past. It is maybe worth taking some time to think about the things that have been holding you back. These calling myths are ideas that it would be very helpful if we could take out and shoot. So there may be some that have really been getting in your way, and you need to quietly take them outside and shoot them. So I would invite you to metaphorically do that. And you can ask God to help you lay some of those ideas down if they have been getting in your way, and move to a place where you are beginning to listen to what it is that God is calling you to, and what you sense you are being called to what it is that you are passionate about, free from the sense that it should be difficult and dangerous and terrifying, and moving much more into this sense of idea that I think is much more true, that the thing you are being called to is the thing that you were made for - and the thing that you were made for will feel like it fits, it will feel like you and it will bring you joy.

Hope you enjoyed this episode of the Loved Called Gifted podcast. If you’d like to get in touch you can e-mail, you can find a transcript of this podcast at and that is also the place to go if you are interested in the Loved Called Gifted course, or if you would like to find out about spiritual direction or coaching.

Thank you for listening.

[Theme music “Nice View” by Crowander, produced by David Szesztay CC 2019, please visit for more information. File accessed at and used under creative commons: non-commercial with attribution].

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