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Letting Your Life Speak: Following Jesus and Finding Vocation

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In his wonderful must-read meditation on vocation, Parker Palmer reflects on the Quaker saying “let your life speak.”[1] In his 30s, Palmer understood this phrase to mean “let the highest truths and values guide you” and “live up to those demanding standards in everything you do.”

Yet he realized that striving in this way led to results that “were rarely admirable, often laughable, and sometimes grotesque.” This idealistic and lofty understanding of vocation, he discovered, was ultimately a “simplistic brand of moralism, [reducing] the ethical life to making a list, checking it twice…and then trying very hard to be naughty and not nice.” In other words, pursuing vocation as an ideal was a shallow attempt to live into the depth and beauty of the life he was called to live.

Later in life he realized that to “let your life speak” was not about striving towards an unreachable standard but about making space for identity to shape vocation. He writes:

Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent.

And, continuing:

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.

At Kairos, the church community I’m a part of, we talk about identity as one of the central and guiding aspects of your life. Who you believe yourself to be and who you believe God believes you to be are powerful questions each of us need to wrestle with.

In the Christian Scriptures, God is revealed to a creation described as “very good” (Genesis 1:31) through an ongoing covenant relationship with a people created in God’s own image (Genesis 1:27). We are a work in progress, and Paul speaks of our ongoing redemption and restoration as being “transformed into the likeness of Christ” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Despite our rebellion and rejection, the identity imprinted on us by God remains steady. The words God spoke to Jesus at his baptism apply to us as God’s children: “You are my child, whom I love. With you I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).

The question of vocation and calling is the bridge between the Scriptural themes of Covenant (who we are) and Kingdom (what we’re called to do). From the posture of a child eager to hear their parent’s voice, we listen to the life God has given us as we discern our vocation and our calling.

You are a child of God formed in the image of God and being transformed into the likeness of Christ.

In light of that, how has God uniquely and specifically shaped and called you?

And what has God called you to?

What is it that the gift of your life is speaking to you?

 


[1] All quotations from Parker J. Palmer. Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. Jossey-Bass, 2000.

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