Shades of Beige

by Kate Gilday

Last night I sat on the floor and coloured out a butterfly with crayons. When I say “coloured out”, I mean coloured everywhere apart from ‘in’. My butterfly’s only internal adornment were four words:

It had been one of those days: the tail end of a disastrous assignment, an ever-increasing panic about the multitude of obligations that had gone by the wayside while trying to complete said assignment, a string of social interactions that methodically nurtured an identity crisis, and a howling, driving wind perfectly tuned to stir restlessness.

I just don’t know where I’m going. I don’t even know who I am,” I lamented to a friend shortly before hauling out the crayons.

A voice within me was like, “Dude, you work for the flipping Vocations office. Surely you have this thing sorted by now.” 

Except I don’t.

See, the Holy Spirit has fitted me out with an odd sort of mechanism. I’m going to label it the “Anti-Comfort Existential Crisis and Re-evaluation Drive” (or “ACECaRD”).

Acecard’s main purpose is to flip my life paradigm on its head the moment I get used to it.

Case Study #1: Kate is in high school. Kate is pretty darned good at high school. Logical conveyor belt of social convention suggests law school. Acecard promptly balks at the complacency with which Kate hops on said conveyor belt, and immediately presents the irresistibly unconventional prospect of becoming an unpaid missionary instead. Comfort zone transcended, existential crisis effected, re-evaluation process achieved, new paradigm set in place (for a little while, that is).

In terms of my vocation (specifically my vocational state of life), Acecard has had a pretty active few years’ employment under the Holy Spirit.

Case Study #2: Kate assumes she has a vocation to marriage and motherhood. Acecard kicks into gear by insisting vocational horizons be broadened and religious life duly considered. Kate gets used to the idea of religious life and actually adopts it as chosen comfort zone. Acecard rebels and re-establishes marriage as a viable option (at this stage, Acecard may have had some help from the newly encountered plethora of marriageable Catholic men at NET training). New life archetype discovered, Kate makes choices to enable vocational progression towards a certain portrait of marriage…. just in time for Acecard to scornfully remind her not to sail too close to the shore, and be open to a calling beyond the comfortable.

As my flip-flopping discernment continues, Acecard plays an irritating but invigorating role in keeping me from settling. The moment I make any ‘calling’ the goal in itself (rather than God alone as my ultimate goal) and get comfortable with striving towards that goal, the rug gets swept out from under my feet, leaving me to land rather painfully on my face. Thanks, Acecard.

So when I’m forced to admit – first to myself, then to the whole of social media – that I still don’t have it all sorted, it’s largely the fault of Acecard.

But praise God for that.

Yesterday was the culmination of a growing dissatisfaction with my own complacency. Once again, I’d opened my eyes to find myself on a conveyor belt – ticking boxes of social convention (live in house – check. get job – check. go to uni – check) rather than living with zeal and the Holy Spirit.

Confronted with a very vague ‘road ahead’ and a deep fear of getting it wrong, I keep looking to conventional social wisdom to make my decisions for me. But those conventions inevitably manifest themselves in cookie-cutter portraits painted with shades of beige.

Acecard is God’s way of reminding me that He is not a God of beige. He is the creator of beautiful, complicated realities that defy our expectations. When He calls, it is never to a known quantity: it’s to an adventure.

Discerning your vocation is exciting because it isn’t about figuring out which shade of beige suits you best. It’s about learning to listen to the wild, grand voice of the Holy Spirit and letting a love for Him inform your life.

The saints have been innovative existers – the ones who have thrown caution to the wind of the Holy Spirit, forgotten the conventional archetypes and lived with ridiculous, trailblazing zeal. They have been passionately in love with the God who gives life to the full, and extraordinarily dedicated to the fight to make His love present in this world.

Matthew the tax collector (you can find his story in Mt 9:9-13) was resigned to sitting at his desk, anticipating a bleakly predictable life. But when Jesus called, his world burst technicolour.

That is what vocation is all about: a God who notices our own resignation to mediocrity and invites us to rebel against beige for the sake of His kingdom.

He colours out our lives. He gives us an Acecard to remind us not to spend our lives copying someone else’s picture.

He calls us to be co-creators with Him – and I reckon it’s time we hauled out the crayons.