Recent comments by presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann have stirred up the discussion about gay marriage once again. While speaking to a group of high school…
I quit my job recently.
It was a good job…a relatively well-paying job with good benefits and a dental plan. I liked my boss and enjoyed my colleagues. I found the work interesting as it frequently provided a chance to be creative, innovative and kept the cat in kibble. On the surface, everything appeared as though I was on the path to upward mobility and the good life.
But inside, I was dying a little bit each day. Each day for the last several months, my soul was being diminished rather than enlarged and I was finding the emotional, spiritual, and even physical demands of the job outpaced the returns. It became a bad trade…the exchange rate was too high and the return on investment steadily got smaller.
I thought I could manage the dissonance between not being in the right place but staying for reasons that seemed logical – security, stability, a fancy title and an office with windows that opened. But each day as I put on my dress slacks and slipped into my shiny black shoes, I was dressing up like an actor to play a character whose motivation I simply couldn’t understand.
So I prayed for wisdom and guidance. I prayed for clarity and insight. I waited for the voice from Heaven to shout down the next step of the grand plan. I waited. But the voice never came. I wondered what was causing God to be silent – apparently disinterested in the petty details of my frustrated work life. I wondered if the lines of communication were clogged on my end…perhaps it was me who was unable or unwilling to open my ears to the voice of the shepherd whom I so desperately hoped would lead me out of the arid desert and into greener pastures and beside still waters.
I grew fearful of making the wrong decision lest I chose the wrong road. I had grown up being taught that the “human heart is wicked and deceitful above all else”, yet paradoxically encouraged to “commit all your ways to the Lord and he will make your paths straight”. Apparently my sinful human anthropology meant my own interests, goals and desires were unreliable and suspicious whereas my Christian faith simultaneously called me to trust in a God who has promised to show the way. And it is in this apparent duality – the implied distrust of self and a faith in self-revealing, communicative God that I got stuck…afraid to move…growing more miserable each day while trusting the clarity would come in due time.
It was during a long, slow recovery from a life-altering health challenge that I had the opportunity to cut through the noise, give voice to the frustrations surrounding career ambiguity, and to seek out other ways to gain some perspective on issues of career and calling. Of all the things I had the opportunity to read while lying on my couch, Let Your Life Speak by Parker J. Palmer was the most transformative.
In this short yet profound book, Palmer flips the tables on the commonplace evangelical notion that career and calling come from the ‘outside’ by instead suggesting that the secret to discovering one’s purpose in life is to let your life speak its truth from the inside out. According to the beginning of Genesis, man and woman were made in God’s image – a notion that insinuates that people enter the world bearing a resemblance to their creator and imbued with aspects of personhood that reflect the heart and nature of the One who gives life. The key to happiness and fulfillment is to take time to reflect on your life, let it tell you what it was created to do…what moves it, what brings it joy, what breaks its heart and what causes it to rise up in holy anger.
Vocation does not come from wilfulness. 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)
Parker encourages his readers to reflect on their childhoods – back to a time before they started putting on the masks worn by people consumed with cares of career advancement, social standing, and 401K plans. These times of innocence, of play, of genuine curiosity and emotion…these contain the silent whispers of a life’s calling. Spend time away from the noise, from the iPhone and email, and let your life tell you about you. Let the God-ness in you move you towards how you might be an authentic God-ness in the world. And for all those who challenge this approach as being self-indulgent and disrespectful of God’s perspective on career choice and vocational calling, Parker simply raises the question of whether it is not equally disrespectful to ignore the person you were created to be by failing to stop and tune in for a while.
Discovering vocation does not come from a voice ‘out there’ calling me to be 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. (p.10)
So I did as Parker encouraged and started on a journey of listening inwardly. At first it was strange but then the memories started coming like a flood. Memories of the simple joy that came from creating things – a song on the piano, a short story about a dog named Tinsey, or a whole universe out of Lego. I remembered the tug of compassion towards a friend who had life-saving surgery in eighth grade as well as my awakening to the needs of others brought on by being encouraged to give my old toys to a family that didn’t have enough money to buy their own. I recalled that I always loved Jesus and was moved by his heart of generosity and acceptance. I realized that I am a poet, a writer, an encourager, a creator. The more that the memories came…the more I started to see patterns of attraction and affinity.
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 lost in our twenties, thirties, or forties, feeling profoundly lost, having wandered, or been dragged, far away from our birthright gifts. (p.15)
I realized that I am all of these things and so much more. Many of these things I am because of experiences I have had, but I think that listening to my life has led me back to my core – to patterns of behaviour, disposition and interests that have always been part of me. Perhaps more importantly, I started to see where my life was not leading and started to be thankful for its intuitive avoidance of things that had the potential for harm.
And in the final analysis, I realized that although the pay was good and the benefits were generous, I wasn’t living in authenticity. My life had spoken and realized I wasn’t who I wanted to be anymore. So I stepped out of one life and back into my own. I feel like I am standing in Robert Frost’s yellow wood at the juncture of the two roads that diverge into different directions. I quit my job so I might take the road less travelled. And I am trusting that it will make all the difference in the end.
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