I might sound like a bad mother, but I have a confession to make: I love my son, I delight in my son, and I would literally lay my life down for my son. However, I do not feel called to be a mom.

I came to this realization years before I ever gave birth, back when a friend of mine announced she was pregnant. Although her pregnancy was planned and wanted, she was also freaked out. She wondered how the baby would disrupt her life and if she was ready. She had none of the feelings that pregnant women are "supposed" to have—the joyful excitement and the glowing face. But as I observed her I felt oddly comforted; I knew I would feel exactly the same way.

I have always wanted to have kids, but, as I began to notice other women expressing their own "callings" to motherhood, I hesitated to use that word for myself. For me, motherhood was more of a desire than it was a calling. It was a good desire, a God-given one. But a calling? I wasn't so sure.

Over the years I have reflected on why motherhood does not feel like a calling to me, when it does to so many women. I heard author Rebekah Lyons describe calling as the place "where your talents and burdens collide," and this definition shed some light on one factor: I am not a kid person.

It's not that I dislike children or that I don't know what to do with them. But I am not passionate about children. I never enjoyed babysitting or wanted to work in the church nursery. I had neither talents nor burdens for children, so that might explain the lack of "calling" toward full-time kid-raising.

But there's another reason I didn't name my motherly desire a calling, and it has to do with our use of the word itself. Sometimes I wonder if "calling" has become a catchall term, stripped of its true meaning. Many of us use "calling" when what we really mean is job, life season, or basic Christian obedience.

For example, take the language about calling and singleness. Some unmarried believers fear they have been called to singleness, though nothing in their lives would suggest divine vocation, aside from mere circumstance. This arbitrary use of calling is also evident in the language around fatherhood. Though the burden of parenting falls on mother and father alike, motherhood is articulated as a calling while fatherhood often is not.

Biblically speaking, calling is more precise and it has two primary expressions. The first is God-ward. This general Christian calling applies to our calling into salvation and discipleship (Eph. 1:18, Col. 3:15, 2 Thess. 2:14, 1 Tim. 6:12). This type of calling is a way of life, one that transcends all other callings. Wherever we sit, eat, drink, sleep, work, play, rest, or celebrate, we do it all for the glory of the Lord. Christian motherhood falls under this umbrella of calling—all Christian mothers are "called" to honor and obey God in the way they raise their children—but this call is also much larger than any particular role.

The second type of calling is a subset of the first: individual calling. Abraham, Noah, Moses, Jonah, and Paul all received individual callings for a specific purpose or task. They were set apart for a particular reason, one that was larger than themselves. The call was focused and unique to each of them.

To some extent, these men represent historical rarities—it's not every day that God speaks through a burning bush!—but they do provide us with a paradigm for thinking about individual calling. Individual calling is not just a matter of circumstances. Just because I got a job to pay the bills does not, by default, mean I was called to it. Instead, individual calling is discerned using multiple touchstones: It is a biblically grounded, Holy Spirit-infused, community-affirmed expression of one's gifts, and it glorifies God for a purpose greater than one's self.

Given that definition, some women are indeed "called" to be mothers. In my experience, such women are not only gifted at mothering their own children, but they are gifted at mothering others as well. There is no greater example of this than Elizabeth, who had the great burden of nurturing and encouraging Mary as she awaited Jesus' birth.

For the rest of us, motherhood falls under the first category of general Christian calling. It is a God-given good—Scripture affirms this, no doubt—but it is not always a calling in the individual sense. Even so, every mother's "Christian calling" is the same: to steward the role as faithful, loving, disciples of Christ.

Likewise, not every single person is called to singleness. For some, life has just worked out that way, which means that any grief you experience is not a sign of faithlessness, but instead the collision of a good desire with a broken world. Yes, God calls you to live obediently in your singleness, but his heart surely aches with yours.

So, let's stop throwing around "calling" when we really mean "life stage" or "career." It's not that calling cannot align with these things, but if we carelessly slap "calling" on any and every circumstance, we risk overlooking the unique purposes written into our beings. Christians' use of the word "calling" might be arbitrary, but God's call is anything but. Not all of us are called to motherhood, but all of us are called to something.