Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation

let_ur_life _speak

I’ve always felt drawn to Parker Palmer’s writings. A recent email asking for recommendations for books on Vocation, Calling, and Discerning the steps one should  take in the future.

So I found myself coming back to this topic, and to this book. Here’s an excerpt On the importance of listening deeply to find your true vocation.

I’m still at page 17, but so far I’ve already come across treasures of wisdom and insight.

“Vocation does not come from willfulness.  It comes from listening.  I must listen to my life and try to understand what it is truly about – quite apart from what I would like it to be about – or my life will never represent anything real in the world, no matter how earnest my intentions.” (p. 4)

Last year, I sent out an email asking for some trusted individuals to give me some feedback on what they think I do best.  I found their answers very affirming, and most helpful.  It was part of my own quest to listen.

As the year started, I found myself plunged into a number of unexpected scenarios and activities.  In many ways, I wonder whether the unexpected intrusion helped reinforce some of the themes raised in the earlier email replies.  And yet, the temptation of being distracted away from my primary concerns was also real.  So, here I sit engaging in the process of listening again.

“Vocation does not mean a goal that I pursue.  It means a calling that I hear.  Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.  I must listen for the truths and values of the heart of my own identity, not the standards by which I must live –  but the standards by which I cannot help but live if I am living my own life.” (p. 5-6)

One of the tools I’ve been using for perspective on myself is a simple timeline.  The time line from birth till today is sketched with highs and lows, significant people and events, major milestones and some mistakes, etc.  It helps me not only listen to my own life, but also visualize the whole journey thus far.  Looks like I need to do an updated version as I approach 40!

“. . .  if I am to let my life speak things I want to hear, things I would gladly tell others, I must also let it speak things I do not want to hear and would never tell anyone else!  My life is not only about my strengths and virtues; it is also about my liabilities and my limits, my trespasses and my shadow.  An inevitable though often ignored dimension of the quest for “wholeness” is that we must embrace what we dislike or find shameful about ourselves as well as what we are confident and proud of.   That is why the poet says, “ask me mistakes I have made.” (pp. 6-7)

Something triggered lately which opened a can of emotions and shadows.  No one likes to revisit their mistakes. Who would want to have their liabilities and limits smashed in their faces again and again.  Worse if it’s trespasses and that which is shameful.  But, there is grace in Palmer’s words here.  An offer of healing of the wounds generated by all these “mistakes.”

I used the word “redeem” in a number of counseling sessions recently.  This word “redeem” is precisely what I need to hear too.  How is it going to happen is what I’m keeping watch now.

“The soul speaks its truth only under quiet inviting, and trustworthy conditions.” (p. 7)

It’s a gift when it happens.  It’s pure grace! And it’s great when it does.  While it maybe rare, and it might be hard for some of us to find these conditions, but when it’s present it does wonders.

For me, it comes often through people.  When I was younger, I thought being open and vulnerable would invite others to provide such conditions.  Alas!  my naivety needed some major crushing.  But before one lands up being a cynic, there is still hope.  Perhaps, a second naivete.

At least, that’s where I am now.

Furthermore, I’m learning more each day even when one is alone.  This is especially a learning curve for extroverts, solitude allows for these “quiet inviting, and trustworthy conditions” to emerge.  Then one can listen in safety.

“Today I understand vocation quite differently – not as a goal to be achieved but as a gift to be received.  Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess.  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 by God.” (p. 10)

A gift oriented life is so much more liberating than a goal oriented life!

“We are disabused of original giftedness in the first half of our lives.  Then – if we are awake, aware, and able to admit our loss – we spend the second half trying to recover and reclaim the gift we once possessed.” (p. 12)

I hope I don’t have to wait to long to “get it” 🙂 And this makes me look at my kids this afternoon in a new light.

“From the beginning, our lives lay down clues to selfhood and vocation, though the clues may be hard to decode.  But trying to interpret them is profoundly worthwhile – especially when we are in our twenties, or thirties or forties, feeling profoundly lost, having wandered, or been dragged, far away from our birthright gifts.” (p. 15)

Well, the young man who wrote me is in his twenties.  I’m still in my thirties heading to forty soon. 🙂 One of the gifts I’ve had was the chance to be invited to decode the clues of my life at a relatively young age.  I think it helped me avoid some unnecessary knocks, but I still had some necessary ones though.  The exercise of interpreting these clues is one fascinating activity, and with some help very rewarding.

“The deepest vocational question is not “What ought to do with my life?”  It is the more elemental and demanding “Who am I? What is my nature?” (p. 15)

We are having our church AGM tomorrow.  I wonder how this vocational question applies to our church community thus far.  The personal and communal has many areas of convergence when it comes to the big questions on big picture issues.

I hear the “ought” question all the time.  It’s flooding the airwaves of most people’s minds.   And yet, what is needed is the more “elemental and demanding”  question.  Why?  Because it goes deeper, it digs into the longer term more important themes then what’s urgently craving for our attention and gratifying at first sight.

“True vocation joins self and service, as Frederick Buechner asserts when he defines vocation as “the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.”

Buechner’s definition starts with the self and moves toward the needs of the world: it begins, wisely, where vocation begins –  not in what the world needs (which is everything), but in the nature of the human self, in what brings the self joy, the deep joy of knowing that we are here on earth to be gifts that God created.” (pp. 16-17)

Well, that’s where I stopped before dinner.  And it’s a good place to stop, or to start depending on what I’m referring to. 🙂

I like the movement using the words  “starts with” and then “moves toward” . it’s one which I can relate to and I think is most gracious and redemptive.  We always start somewhere, and we’re never in a vacuum.  But where we start does make a difference.

I like the joining of self and service, and the meeting of gladness and need.  It’s so liberating.  It’s good to know, we don’t have to be a grouchy bunch of people.  There’s enough out there already. 

About Sivin Kit

man of one wife, father of four kids
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