A couple of months ago, I received a new calling. I’d sufficiently recovered from certain previous callings to feel that I could yet again give church a chance and make my availability known. In many respects, I was extremely fortunate in the way that process played out. A woman I know and like had recently been called as RS president, and one Sunday I happened upon her in the foyer and explained both my willingness to serve and the limitations of my current situation. Because of circumstances involving my own health and my husband’s inactivity, I can’t fulfill a Primary or weekly teaching calling right now and probably won’t be able to for the next couple of years. So I suggested that a Relief Society committee might be appropriate.
Several weeks later a member of the bishopric asked if he could speak with me, and after we sat down in the bishop’s office and went through the conversational preliminaries, informed me that the bishopric was calling me to the Enrichment Committee. I immediately accepted, since it was precisely what I myself had just requested. The good, kind man who extended me the calling first said, “We’d like to call you to….” and then corrected himself, no doubt as he’s been instructed to, and said, “We feel inspired to call you to….”
It’s not that I have the slightest sense that the calling was flatly uninspired or in any way contrary to the will of God. But at the same time, I just wanted to laugh. It felt as if this member of the bishopric and I were playing a game, both of us reciting our well-rehearsed parts, even though of course I knew better than anyone that I’d engineered the whole thing myself, and it’s possible he knew that as well.
I do believe that callings are sometimes inspired. In the various church stewardships I’ve had over the years, I’ve occasionally known exactly who needed to occupy a particular position. Once as education counselor in an RS presidency, I knew that we needed to call a woman to teach Relief Society, and I pushed for it even though the other members of the presidency were somewhat hesitant (possibly because the woman in question was Korean-American; this was in the heart of Utah Valley more than a decade ago). After the woman was called to teach, she told us she’d been praying for a calling that would help keep her active. Similarly, when I was YW president and had to call a counselor, I found myself sitting in gospel doctrine one day behind a young couple that had just moved in and knowing that the wife was the person whose name I should give to the branch president.
But for me those experiences, beautiful as they are, are the exception rather than the rule. I’ve been involved in far more calling extensions about which I felt nothing in particular, or felt that they were simply “fine” or “acceptable,” not “imperative” or “the personal will of God that must immediately be enacted in the sixth ward.” This calling certainly falls in the first category; I studied it out in my own mind, the powers that be in my ward acquiesced. No irrefutable burning in the bosom has followed, and frankly, I think it would be a bit ungrateful and demanding of me to expect one.
On the one hand, I love it that as Mormons and Christians we reject what Weber called the disenchantment of the world. But on the other hand, the thoroughgoing enchantment of the world we Mormons and Christians sometimes assume simply trivializes God and paralyzes us with the expectation of superhuman intervention in even our minutest affairs. Some callings are inspired, many others are simply acceptable, and some few–I myself have accepted one or two–are downright disastrous. But if we insist on speaking of all callings as if they enacted the personal will of God on earth, we lay an almost unbearable burden of significance on our own inevitably human decisions. To ask to be released as the ladies’ restroom toilet-paper straightener then becomes an affront to deity.
Personally, it would be a great help to me if bishoprics and stake presidencies could get past the church-talk (saying, “We feel inspired to call you to…” regardless of the actual decision-making specifics) and be a little more candid about the degree of inspiration under which they’re operating. If the bishop or stake president genuinely feels that God very much wants me to do X, well, hey, I definitely need to know that. But if they’re just desperate to fill a slot and think I might be willing, or if the call is based on some sort of demographic calculus (infertile woman with inactive husband will represent diversity in this presidency/on this committee), I very much need to know that as well.