When you were five years old, what did you want to be when you grew up?
What about when you were 18?
Last week I had the opportunity to spend some time with a group of high school students who were discerning their calling. Asbury University, my alma mater, hosted this conference for students sensing a call to vocational ministry. It was exciting to be with these high school juniors and seniors as they explore what it might mean to be called into ministry, but also to challenge and encourage them that we are all called out by God, whether that calling involves a ministry job or not.
One of the things we explored was how God sometimes only gives us limited vision into the ways our calling will be fleshed out along the journey. When I was five, I wanted to be a veterinarian. I loved animals, lived on a farm, and was convinced that my future involved taking care of animals. As it turns out, in my adult life I haven't even had any pets until two months ago (we finally let our kids get a few fish)! This is just one of the quirky turns in my own discernment of calling and career; you probably have some of your own.
I like Parker Palmer's description of vocation as something I can't not do, for reasons I'm unable to explain to anyone else and don't fully understand myself. ((Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, 25.)) Vocation is being called; which assumes that we are listening for something. To be more clear, that we are listening for someone. For the voice of God speaking into and through our lives.
In Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, Palmer goes on to note that on the flip side of listening, attempting to chase after vocation can be dangerous: Willful pursuit of vocation is an act of violence against ourselves. Vocation does not come from willfulness. It comes from listening. ((Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak, 4.)) It's very much like getting to know a friend, or a spouse, or God. We cant manipulate the relationship without hurting ourselves and the other person. True knowing involves a lot of listening and receiving.
As you think about the ways you lead young people to understand vocation, I'm wondering:
- How do you help students discern their calling? What do you find helpful in guiding this process?
- How do you help them learn the differences between general calling (the things we're all called to do: love God and neighbor, and be God's beloved children) and specific calling (the ways I am created and gifted to live out my unique contribution to the world)?
- What guidance do you give students about what following God's calling might entail?
- What advice would you give a youth worker or parent who is trying to help a young person who thinks they are called to vocational ministry?
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