Fire in my Belly

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go and do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive” (Eldredge)

One of the things that ignites a fire in my belly is the desire to see people step into their true vocations… to be authentically themselves, and to do the things they were put on earth to do. This feels to me like a win-win situation… the person living out their true vocation becomes alight with joy and purpose, and the world becomes blessed by their unique contribution. Whether that contribution is through the arts, science, business, education, community service, ministry, practical deeds, parenting, or through a million and one different ways… the world is a better place when people embrace and live out their God-given vocations.

Assisting others in the business of vocational discernment releases deep joy for me. Many writers reflecting on “true vocation” suggest clues are often found in our early dreams and yearnings, before the pressures of social expectations and life circumstances squeeze us into one mould or another.

Buckingham and Clifton write: “Yearnings reveal the presence of a talent, particularly when they are felt early in life…. Your strongest connections are irresistible. They exert a magnetic influence, drawing you back time and time again. You feel their pull, and so you yearn.” (Now Discover your Strengths, page 61)

James and Evelyn Whitehead note “The invitation to do something special with my life does not descend upon me from external authorities, appearing predominantly as a ‘should’ or duty. It is inscribed within me, in my fragile gifts and best insights.” (Christian Life Patterns, page 14)

Sadly… our families of origin, (and our society in general), do not always nurture and celebrate our best gifts. Parker J Palmer notes pessimistically:

“From our first days at school, we are taught to listen to everything and everyone but ourselves, to take all our clues about living from the people and powers around us.” (page 5) “We arrive in this world with birthright gifts – then we spend the first half of our lives abandoning them or letting others disabuse us of them. As young people, we are surrounded by expectations that have little to do with who we really are, expectations held by people who are not trying to discern our selfhood but to fit us into slots. In families, schools, workplaces and religious communities, we are trained away from true self into images of acceptability, under social pressure like racism or sexism our original shape is deformed beyond recognition; and we ourselves, driven by fear, too often betray true self to gain the approval of others.” (page 12, Let Your Life Speak)

It is an interesting exercise to think about the things that gave us joy, that excited our imaginations, and that revealed our natural aptitudes when we were young. These often provide helpful clues to what we do well, what we love to do, and to the purposes for which we were created. Palmer also writes “Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach, but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. 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 fulfil the original selfhood given me at birth by God.”

For me, asking questions that help others uncover the things that give them deep joy is a delight. This can also involve uncovering the things that make them angry… which is often the flip side of our passions. We can gain a deep sense of fulfilment from working to change an injustice, just as we can gain a deep sense of fulfilment from working in an area of delight. Sometimes both things join together in authentic vocation. (e.g. “I love being with children, I get angry that children with disabilities are hampered from reaching their potential, I find my deepest joy in working with and empowering children with disabilities”).

One of my deep frustrations is listening to people whose dreams have been thwarted. Just yesterday in a preaching class for women one of the presenters shared when she first heard a wonderful sermon. This provoked a passion within her, and she turned to her mother and said: “That’s what I want to do with my life.” “Oh, women can’t preach dear” was the immediate response. (Fortunately, it did become her vocation!) Another woman I shared with yesterday told of how even as a young child she had longed to be a preacher… she is now a grandmother involved in theological study and an area of ministry, she is inching closer to her childhood dream. But there have been many, many barriers over the years blocking her from this dream.

I think this is where my passion for vocational discernment and my passion around women in ministry intersect most strongly. It grieves me that social expectations around what women can and can’t do (and ridiculous theology) blocks women from fulfilling the yearning of their hearts. Things are changing, and I do speak with younger women who have never felt thwarted from doing anything they want to do… but this change is not universal.

So, what dreams simmer in your heart? Have you started living out these dreams? And if so, what’s that been like? And if not… well, why not?


Popular posts from this blog

Precedent to Precept

Rebranding Hierarchy

The World According to Complementarians