Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
A few months ago, Max Carter asked a handful of Guilford College alumni to write essays on this query: "What are you doing now and how does it relate to your time in the Quaker Leadership Scholars Program at Guilford College?"
Having spent most of my four years at Guilford floundering and then watching everything fall into place my Senior year, I immediately thought about vocational discernment. What work is God calling us to commit to for life, and how do we discover and honor it?
The question that was central for me in this process was: "Where does my great passion meet the world's great need?"
But I'm curious about opening up the conversation more:
How did you find and settle into your vocation? What was your discernment process like? Do you feel like you are doing the life work that God is calling you to do? Are you being/would you be well cared for in doing that work?
I am a teacher, I cannot exactly say how and when I decided to become one. Since childhood it has always been a job I have considered to be a possibility for me. I do know how I chose my university. I was very insecure which university and which subjects to choose when I had decided that I wanted to go to university and become a teacher. I thought and thought but just got panicked every time. One night I dreamed that I filled in the application form in a particular way and I ended up deciding to apply to the schools I had dreamed I applied to. I was admitted into the college I had ranked as number one and I am very satisfied with the training I got and with my choice of subjects to teach in. I was not a Christian at the time but I was sure it was my intuition speaking. Now I might call that intuition god but I do not know that for sure.
I do not see this job as a calling but I do believe that I am talented in teaching others. I like my job and at the moment I do not consider another working in any other field. I do not however say that will work as a teacher forever, but I think that I will always teach somehow.
All my life I am saying
“What’s my job?!” and
taking whatever I hear about
as maybe the Answer.
My job is being crazy,
having a headful
of ideas that have
driven everyone insane
and making antibodies.
My job is having no job
to put before our
job with The Big J.
Every time I think
I have an answer to the
“What do you do?”
it turns out sooner or later I’m
laid off from every Identity.
Some day, people say, the answer
will be “I’m dying!”
Meanwhile I'm a flower
sneezing in the Spring air.
May 5, 2003
And since then... got older & went on Social Security + geezer welfare aka SSI, scraping by with a little help from God (& some good friends). Now & then some writing, even painting. Lots of reading, a little thinking & less meditation...
and I think I understand/know God a little better than when I started, which may be everybody's real vocation. Personal ambitions may look important at the time, but sooner or later it comes down to whatever God is leading you towards.
I'm not sure I can answer these questions, so much as affirm that they are constant questions for reflection and to stay open. I have also used the word "avocation" in my counseling work (in the context of we have a job, a career, a vocation and an avocation). So the best answer I can give is my avocation is to be at play with the world, to love nature, to be in the moment, and to leave the world ever-so-slightly better when my time is done. My vocation is to work with youth and those who work with youth in a variety of contexts (educational, spiritual, service). I do remember thinking when I was young I wanted to be a teacher. As I reflect back, even though I've never been in charge of a classroom as a teacher (other than a brief grad-school stint as a sub), I have been - but my efforts have been to provide opportunities and tools for people to explore and learn - often with creativity and play. As someone who has always liked to push the envelope and think out of the box, it's been a good fit, and something that just evolved as way opens.
I was raised as a step-child of an emotionally and physically abusive step-father. Part of the way I coped with the abuse was to think of myself as "everychild" and wonder what my life would be like if I were being raised by someone who was actually capable of discharging his moral and ethical responsibilities toward his dependent children.
I graduated from high school thinking I wanted to be a veterinarian so I could help helpless animals. I soon gravitated toward nursing because I found I liked helping people. Then I began my academic trip toward becoming a psychologist, partly to understand myself better.
I was working in a state hospital as a psychiatric technician when investigative reporters started uncovering the terrible things that some (a few) state hospital employees were doing to (a few of) their patients. (Coincidentally?) I had been outraged by some of the ways some patients were being restrained and offered to provide some systematic training aimed at preventing injury and avoiding conflict whenever possible.
I had a solution to a problem that state officials were seeking a solution for. That started 30 years of teaching professionals how to conduct themselves respectfully, professionally and ethically when faced with a person in their care who was actively trying to injure self or others.
In a very real sense, I would not have gravitated toward this vocation unless I had been abused as a child. I don't take a lot of personal credit having taken the initiative to find and master this vocation. I am more inclined to believe that I followed the light I was given, when it was given. I am satisfied that I did the right thing.
This question speaks to me because I have been contemplating a career change for the past several years, and have been coming up with no answer. I feel very much in a rut, but also feel that I am where I am supposed to be right now. I am discontent with that.
I am a registered nurse, and I do feel I was called to do what I do. In 1993 I left an abusive relationship with 3 children. I maintained a relationship with their father, but a distant one. It was a difficult time and I did not handle it well at times. I found a job taking care of mentally handicapped adults, and considered my long term options. I even went so far as to pull out pictures of myself from various stages of life, to look at when I felt happiest, and thought about why. I reviewed old journals. I worshiped after the manner of Friends, and asked God what I was supposed to do. It was after this self-reflection that I chose to go onto public assistance, take out student loans, and enter a 2-year Associate Degree nursing program. It was not what I had aspired to do at any other point in my life. My mother was a recorded Friends minister and took me on visits in hospitals, and that was the last place I ever thought I'd want to be. I completed the program surprisingly with honors and even was elected president of my nursing class.
I have been a registered nurse now for 13 years, last August. For the past 4, I have been working in cardiac special care in a moderate sized hospital. I pull femoral artery sheaths after heart caths and help people coming into the hospital get their heart issues under control (fast or slow rates, chest pain) until a doctor can intervene, among other things. It is a fast paced high stress job. I take care of people whose hearts are having problems. I have to think on my feet and make life and death choices on a daily basis. I have worked in long term care, rehab, pulmonary, orthopedics and home care, but of all types of nursing, I have enjoyed home care and this type of cardiac care most.
I have also been keeping the family farm, something I feel led to do. Fortunately I have been married to a farmer the past 6 years which makes this much easier. This year, I felt very strongly that I needed to move off of it. My oldest brother, who has always wanted it, is finally ready to move here. I wasn't aware of that before making the choice to move.
I suppose I am well cared for in many ways, although I am usually emotionally tired. I don't feel spiritually connected most of the time.I don't perceive myself as being "cared for," most of the time, but compared to others, I really am. I have a very supportive family and in-laws despite any issues. My meeting has been supportive when I request it without much reciprocation from me. I have good friends. I have not been as involved in my meeting or my husband's church as I'd like, but with the kind of job I have, I have never felt physically, spiritually or emotionally able to be a part of it (and its issues) the way some are.
I'm not a graduate of Guilford, but one of my sons will be a one-year graduate this spring. He was in QLSP. He is just finding his vocation, and as a secular humanist (which is what he calls himself), I'm not sure if he would see it as an approach of what God is calling him to do. However, I do feel that despite some of my bad choices, and my sometimes poor coping mechanisms, that my faithfulness to come back to that still place for direction has influenced my children to do the same.
Bill Taber said to me, not long before he died, that it never gets easier.
“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet” (Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC, San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1993, page 119).
I am afraid I prefer this formulation of the thought, and with apologies for going schoolmarmish on thee, Jon, I think thy formulation is sufficiently similar that thee should have given Frederick Buechner some credit . . .
I have not found a vocation or a career. I have a sense of vocation around a number of things at which I do not earn money, but I suppose those are more normally called an avocation. I have in fact felt a stop from earning money at them, that God was not open to my pursuing those options. I feel that I am doing the life work that God is calling me to, just that what he is calling me to isn't paying work. My discernment process? I seek to do the will of the Lord as shown to me by the Christ Within each day. If I feel led, I move forward, and if I feel a stop, I stop. I practice as much obedience in the small things as I am capable of, and trust that when something big must be discerned I will be ready to hear it. I do feel the Lord strengthens me in the vocation work he calls me to, and can feel the good raised up and the evil weakened in myself and others as a result.
On a side note, I do wonder about the term "vocational discernment." I have seen it more than once that God has not seemed to have an opinion about someone's occupational options, and so their trying to draw him into that process by calling it "discernment" has not yielded what was hoped.
Certainly, as a traditional Friend, I believe we should stay open to the guidance of the Christ Within in all things. Yet I think it is an important distinction to make that God will guide us, in his own time and in his own way, and not vice versa. I am afraid some people experience frustration and even pain trying to discern how God wants them to earn a living within a vocation . . . when that isn't what his current concern for them entails. Some of us are required to work at mere jobs and live out our call outside of that . . .
When I got the dregs of my father's inheritance... I'd been wanting to start a bookstore like AFSC's in San Diego, which is a bit of a backwater where you don't get to see their sort of material in bookstores often. But I had mixed feelings about trying to earn even a modest living from a spiritual bookstore; it would be such a luxury for someone like me! Anyway, I asked for a clearness committee-- and it turned out that none of them had a clue about why this concerned me-- but clearly this was what I yearned to do, so I did so.
The store was a favorite for one Comparative Religions prof, but one prof doth not a sustaining income stream make. This was a place where people would wander in, say "What an interesting selection of books you have!" and flee. (There was one woman shopping for a colony of expatriates in Mexico who eagerly snapped up a few hundred dollars worth-- but once in a year doesn't pay the landlord either.)
The owner of Wisdom Traditions bookstore, a place that really existed as a setting for talks by Tibetan lamas, took a look around and really liked what we had. So when we closed, we moved the books into his place... which was seldom open, but our favorite Theosophist worked their occasionally and also approved. So after we came back broke from Pendle Hill, they had a lot to do with us moving in here upstairs from their lodge. (I'd been hoping the books would eventually go to our Meeting library, but they're still downstairs.)
So. I got to read some things I wouldn't otherwise have even known about. (A bookstore going under is a great place to read!) My life since starting this thing was probably entirely different than it would have been, in terms of where I've lived & who I've met & how I've found which notion. All from the right failure.
And as you say, my way of seeking guidance probably didn't work the way I'd hoped, and didn't lead to finding that God wanted me to do one thing for a living or something else. It certainly didn't lead to success in conventional terms, but (though I might have done some things better) I did get the guidance for what I needed, not what I'd intended & hoped.