Wednesday, April 6, 2011

On mixing shoulds and vocation

The two layers in this image are from San Francisco; The "sails" are a piece of fabric that I found draped at the top of the stairwell in an Asian mini-mall; the sea and sky are the view from the Bay Bridge.

It felt, when I started, like they should go together, but just because they should doesn't mean they actually do, or that they have any particular value as a unit.

It reminds me a bit of something a nun said to me a long time ago, when I went in for spiritual direction about a very demanding job.  "Just because you're good at something, that doesn't mean you're supposed to be doing it."

She's the same nun who asked (when I complained about the demands of my job) how many hours I was being paid to work a week (35) and how many hours I was actually working (80) and then said, "Those other hours are all volunteer hours.  You can choose not to work those hours.  It's your choice."

It's all about the shoulds, isn't it.  These images should go together, but there's no passion in the combined result, so it doesn't really have much to offer.  When I was working, I thought because I COULD do something I SHOULD do it, but there was no passion in it, so it drained me.  And there were so many SHOULDS in the job, and they took so many hours to complete, that I was burning myself out and cheating my family.  But of course, I was working for the church at the time, so the shoulds were compounded by that old religious burden of trying to please and "serving the Lord."

But the truth is we aren't really serving the Lord -- or any higher purpose, for that matter -- if we are working out of shoulds and a sense of duty.  Which takes me to a note I received from one of my readers in response to last Saturday's post.  He said, "most of us spend too much time in trying to find "who I really am" than in giving God "what he really wants."

The challenge, of course, lies in figuring out what it IS that God "really wants."  And I don't have an easy answer to how you discern that path for yourself.  What I do know is that the first commandment is to LOVE God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.  Which suggests that God is looking, not for a dutiful response, but a passionate response.

Yes, when we love, we take on tasks that we might not necessarily enjoy -- housekeeping and diaper-changing come to mind as clear examples of that.  But when we love, we are blessed, I think, with a deep desire to give the best of ourselves -- which I think, given my understanding of God, is what God really wants.  Because here's the thing: God loves us, too.  Passionately.

If in loving our own children, we wish the best for them -- love, health, happiness; jobs that are both challenging and fufilling... wouldn't it make sense that God would want that the same for us?

I was reading Parker Palmer's Let Your Life Speak a few days ago, and now that I see where this post is going it seems entirely appropriate to quote what he has to say about this very subject:

"The human self has a nature, limits as well as potentials.  If you seek vocation without understanding the material you are working with, what you buildd with your life will be ungainly..."Faking it" in the service of high values is no virtue and has nothing to do with vocation.  It is an ignorant, sometimes arrogant, attempt to override one's nature, and it will always fail.

Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic self-hood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be.  As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks -- we will also find our path of authentic service in the world.  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.' "

So.  Where is that place for you?

1 comment:

Kimberly Mason said...

I am uncomfortable with passion and God, it's something I have been working on. I read the poetry of Hafiz, for example, and I find myself shocked by it ... old buttoned up roots, I guess. It's funny, though, because relationship-wise, I'm a VERY passionate person and have always been quite comfortable with my sexuality. But passion and God? I'm learning ...