Years ago, a colleague quoted from a little book that came to change my life, Let Your Life Speak. If you’ve spent any time around me you’ve heard me quote it, preach from it, coach from it and I may have even given you a copy of it. Let Your Life Speak is authored by Parker Palmer and it details his journey of self discovery. It is a guide to learning who you are created and called to be in the world.
We use the language of “called” in the church but usually only in reference to those called to full time ministry or called to take a leadership position within the church. I have talked about being called into ministry. Straight out of college, I served two years as an eighth grade middle school teacher, I was good at it, but knew that I was created for something different. It was a voice, a calling deep inside me. I was lucky that I was teaching with a team of incredible, award winning teachers who were called to be teachers. But how do you know what that voice is saying? How do you listen to the deep parts of your soul that are speaking?
I grew up hearing the phrase, “Be careful what you tell God you don’t want to do because that is exactly what God will call you to do.” After years of fighting what I felt most deeply within my heart, I grew to believe this is terrible theology. All work has it sacrifices, or as a former coach said, all jobs have a rent you have to pay to do the work you really want to do. But this kind of thinking, this fear of God, keeps many from surrendering completely, living a life that really matters.
The important piece in surrendering to the life you were created for is having a heart to change the world. It is believing this world can be a better place and knowing you are created to do something about it. For those of us in the church, our first imperative is that we take seriously Jesus’ words about the kingdom of Earth that he ushered in. Your heart was given to you for a reason. You see the world with unique eyes, only you see the world the way you do.
Parker Palmer’s book is based on an old Quaker saying, “Let your life speak.” He says that sometimes he finds himself asking whether “the life I am living is not the same as the life that wants to live in me.” Palmer says that our lives are filled with voices telling us what we are supposed to be and after living a life trying to live up to every one else’s opinions, suggestions, and pressures, he was weary. He says, “Vocation does not come from a voice ‘out there’ calling me to become something I am not. It comes from a voice ‘in here’ calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God…We arrive in this world with birthright gifts-then we spend the first half of our lives abandoning them or letting others disabuse us of them.” He says, “The deepest vocational question is not ‘What ought I to do with my life?’ It is the more elemental and demanding ‘Who am I? What is my nature?’”
Vocation then becomes the thing that will manifest itself in whatever job or volunteer role that you serve in. Your vocation is the thing that you cannot not do. Vocation is your calling in this world, the reason you are here. Vocation transcends a job description, it is bigger, and sometimes very different, from your career.
What breaks your heart? What makes your heart sing? When you look back over the years of your paid work and your volunteer work, what were the pieces you brought to each place? What is the work that you could do forever, even if you didn’t get paid? What are the things that you could do for hours and still feel energized? What are the things you cannot not do?
“Now I become myself.
It’s taken time, many years and places.
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people’s faces……”
– May Sarton, “Now I Become Myself,” in Collected Poems, 1930-1973