Ask me whether what I have done is my life. – William Stafford
As part of my job, I think about vocation, a lot. Every day, in fact. I read about vocation, write about it, talk to others about it.
But truth be told, most days I am frustrated and exhausted by my own vocations.
A great conversation this morning made me realize how I am constantly trying to live up to someone else’s understanding of or expectations for my vocation. As a mother, I should do this. As a minister, I should be that.
In my mind there is always a standard – albeit idealistic or unrealistic – of how I should be living out or living up to all these different aspects of God’s call for my life. I constantly harangue myself for failing in one area or another: I’m not working enough, I’m not spending enough time on my writing, I’m not being a good enough mother to S.
I fail to let my own life speak to me.
The title of this post comes from Parker Palmer’s book on vocation. As a Quaker schooled in the discernment practices of clearness committees, and as an educator devoted to helping others understand the purpose of their life’s work, Palmer talks about the importance of listening to one’s own life.
He writes, “Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.”
Palmer’s words returned to me today. If I listen only to the voices around me, I feel like I am never good enough, like I’m always playing catch-up. I tell my life what to do, and it only frustrates me. I set up straw men in my mind – perfect mothers, brilliant theologians – and their impossible attainability drives me to despair. I’ll never be like Them.
But if I listen to my life speak, it tells me that I can. I can blend these vocations in a good and unique way. I can be faithful to my calls. I can do what I am gifted to do, through God who strengthens me.
My life tells me that I am. I am doing the things I love, even if it’s not as perfectly as I would like. I am trying to listen to God’s call and respond in turn. I am trying to become a person of hope and compassion, who works for justice, who ministers with love.
What I am doing is my life. My life tells me who I am, and who I can become. If I only let my life speak.