Vocational Confusion

A year ago I was starting my final year of undergrad, and this is what I wish someone would have told me:

  1. The first year of life post-grad will be really hard, but for different reasons than you expect it to be.
  2. You’ll spend the first four months (and quite probably the remaining eight months of the year) wrestling with: your place in society, your purpose in God’s kingdom, and your ability to function as an independent adult.
  3. God will continually surprise you by being more faithful, creative, and generous than you ever could have anticipated.

When I graduated, I knew that it wouldn’t truly feel real until the rest of the world went back to school. On Monday of this week my university started classes again, and I was surprised at how deeply I miss the routine of beginning another school year. I’ve always loved school, and since this fall is the first time since I was four years old that I am not enrolled in any formal education, I feel a bit lost.

Some of the lostness I’m feeling comes from wrestling with my vocation. The way I miss school makes me wonder if I should have gone the teaching route? Up until two years ago that’s where I was headed, and as I watch a surprisingly large number of friends begin student teaching or prep their first classroom for the year I think, “Wow, that looks fun and life-giving.” But deep down I know myself better than that. I know that if I were pursuing a teaching career, a small part of me would be enjoying it, but a larger part of me would be very anxious and wondering if maybe I should have chosen a different career. I’m also fairly confident that I would get five years into teaching and be ready to move on to something else. So, appealing as it appears from where I currently sit, I don’t think teaching is the answer to my confusion.

The truth is that I have chosen the less straightforward (but neither better nor worse) path. When people ask about my career, I can talk their ear off about Kurdistan, the 10/40 Window, and Nepal; Muslims, refugees, and young women; writing, mentoring, and storytelling, but I can’t give a simple answer as to what I want to do. I know that I want to be an overseas missionary, and I have a million ideas of what that could look like, but is that a vocation, especially if it only ends up spanning one season of my life?

When I catch myself thinking thoughts like these, I’m trying to learn how to pause and remember the qualities I attributed to God above: faithful, creative, generous. Of this I am confident: God has good work for me to do in this world (Ephesians 2:10).

In his book entitled Let Your Life Speak Parker J. Palmer says, “As young people, we are surrounded by expectations that may 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.”

How often am I the person not trying to discern my selfhood because I’m too busy trying to fit myself into a slot?

Maybe I won’t live a conventional life, work in a neatly-defined job, or spend my time doing activities that are easy to explain to others. I’m sure if that ends up being my reality, I’ll chafe against it quite a bit. However, this summer God has been teaching me about the sweet freedom that comes with surrendering what I think should be happening in favor of being present to whatever is actually in front of me. Because what’s in front of me is all part of the larger-than-me story God is lovingly crafting, and at the end of the day, living my life in a way that is true to who I am is worth every complex answer I must give to the question, “So what is it you want to do with your life?”

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Insert Fulfillment Here

“How are you?”

“Fine,” or “Oh, you know, I’m ok,” or “I guess I’m a little up, down, and all over the place.”

These answers aren’t untrue, but they’re just vague enough to mask what’s truly going on. So let’s try this again.

“How are you?”

“I feel the ache of waiting. It’s this expansive hollowness, a vortex that gathers my contentment, and joy, and sense of purpose into this swirling mass of confusion and pain.”

What do you do when your body starts to fail you, and God responds by asking you to pray for your own healing?

Pray for healing? That feels like such a loaded request! Because what if I pray and nothing happens? Or I pray and God responds, but I can’t even tell if I’m healed because I don’t understand what’s wrong with me in the first place? Does God want to heal me of all my ailments, or just some of them? Will this healing be instantaneous, or take place over the course of the coming months or even years? Why would God heal me and not other people I love who face physical ailments far more limiting than than mine?

And then I realize that deep down I don’t question God’s sovereignty and power – I know that God is fully capable of healing me. My questions are rooted in doubting in God’s goodness.

I know God is able, but is God willing?

Then there’s the lofty promises God made me over a year ago. Yeah, there’s been growth, sure, there’s been change, but where’s the fulfillment?

There’s a song by Elevation Worship that says, “Walking around these walls/ I thought by now they’d fall,” and that’s precisely how I feel! But maybe my entitlement is showing. Because if I held up my end of the bargain then shouldn’t I get to insert fulfillment here?

But I don’t get to choose when the seasons change. 

Just like the winter has kept its grip on Oregon far longer than any of us want it to, for the time being, winter continues to maintain its hold on my life as well. Which presents me with a choice: rage against the rain or accept it. We all know which will have the better effect on my mental, emotional, and even physical health.

So why do I choose the raging? Because it’s easier. Raging is a quick fix, a bandaid I can slap on to hide an ugly, long-term problem. It makes me feel better, but in a cheap way that doesn’t last.

I just started reading a book my roommate recommended called Hinds Feet on High Places, and in the preface the author says, “But the High Places of victory and union with Christ cannot be reached by any mental reckoning of self to be dead to sin, or by seeking to devise some way or discipline by which the will can be crucified. The only way is by learning to accept, day by day, the actual conditions and tests permitted by God, by a continually repeated laying down of our own will and acceptance of his as it is presented to us in the form of the people with whom we have to live and work, and in the things which happen to us. Every acceptance of his will becomes an altar of sacrifice, and every such surrender and abandonment of ourselves to his will is a means of furthering us on the way to the High Places to which he desires to bring every child of his while they are still living on earth.”  Wow.

Not my will, but yours be done. Can I choose it, knowing that the choosing won’t be a one and done, but that I will have to repeatedly lay down my good yet hopelessly flawed desires and plans in order to accept the unexpected and yet wildly beautiful will of the Father?

With the encouragement of God’s faithful presence in the choosing, my answer is slowly becoming yes and amen.

Further up and further in!

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