by Adam Burns
I'll just come out and say it: I'm a nerd. I have a compulsive thirst for knowledge, which is why right now next to me on my desk is a pile of my wife's social work textbooks. Lately I've had a bit of extra time on my hands (not too much though!) having finished my Bachelors degree and having a bit more brain space, in addition to getting married and now living closer to work (yay for the shorter work commute!). So I've been nerding out, reading more (and reading more broadly) and listening to podcasts.
As part of my nerd-phase, this morning on my way to work I was listening to an interview with Bill Phillips, Editor-In-Chief of Men's Health Magazine. At one point in the interview, Phillips was talking about his progression through his career to his current position. He talked about having the goal of becoming a major editor, but losing out on promotions earlier in his career. He said that what bolstered his belief through those knock backs was the idea that "talent always rises".
Something about that statement struck me. What Phillips calls "talent" refers to an idea that there is something within me, that is characteristic of me, and cannot be defined by a job or even career path. For me, this is connected to my last post where I talked about vocation not ending or ceasing at any one decision or moment in time. Vocation is ongoing throughout the whole of life.
What gets confusing about seeing that calling throughout our whole life is that we often view our life over a timeline, with moments and decisions and commitments marked along a single continuum. But actually, our life is more complicated than a single line. Our existence is an intricate weaving of threads, each representing different dimensions of our human development. My wife's text books call this development biopsychosocial-spiritual, or multidimensional; which understands human development as an interaction of our internal world (biological, psychological, spiritual) with our external societies (relationships, culture, etc.). Basically, we're (beautifully) complex.
In all of that, there's something that ties all of those different dimensions together and ties us to God. We could consider this a human or personalist understanding to vocation: I have some understanding of who I am that allows me, in all that makes me "me", to live in the world in a particular way. So going back to the quote, Phillips calls it "talent", but in a human or personalist understanding of vocation, we could call it our calling - our calling always rises throughout our experiences, prompting us to make commitments or career decisions or pursue passions.
That thread of calling weaves through everything that makes up our life, allowing us to comprehend a direction for our life. So for me personally, I'm able to understand myself as called to my marriage as a husband, and also as called to be a staff member of Vocation Brisbane, while exploring my creativity in writing and music, and still allowing space for me to nerd-out and read social work text books! The thread of who I am called to be weaves through all those parts of who I am, so that even though I see them almost as different worlds in my life, they are all fundamentally related to who God calls me to be.
What I'm saying here isn't anything new. God still calls us, we still respond. What I'm suggesting here is approaching vocation from a different angle. Usually when we present vocation we deduce our way from "The Call" and work that understanding down through to our daily lived existence. But what if we flipped the paradigm? What if we worked up from our daily existence, with all its experiences, elements, dimensions and angles, towards the understanding of "The Call".
When we understand what this thread is, it becomes a link or bridge or even a narrative which connects and flows through everything that makes up "me". Imagine that you lost your job, your home, all your possessions were taken away - this thread would remain, still encompassing what makes you "you". Whatever you do with your life, wherever you go, (in the least stalkerish sense possible!) God is always with you, always calling.
This is why we can believe that God's call is part of everyday of our lives. As cliched as that may sound, it actually is a statement of great depth: the one, most absolutely necessary constant of our lives (at least in relation to our vocation) is our adoption as children of God through our Baptism. Created by God, that thread of calling, that weaves through everything we are, is God's imprint in our lives. We mark this in a tangible way in our Baptism, and live it through sacraments of commitment (like Marriage and Holy Orders) and other commitments (like Consecration, or in our career paths).
Practically, the whole of one's existence is an invitation to follow God, if I know and understand what that thread of calling means for me. And that's the key - understanding that thread, because if we don't have some understanding of it, we're left with the "loose threads" or unrelated parts of our life. What does discerning this thread look like?
Prayer. Prayer is always going to be the first point of discernment. Nothing can take the place of connecting with God and letting Him speak into our lives directly. The second most important thing is mentoring and spiritual direction. Letting others feedback into our lives get us out of our own head and prevents us from making our life and calling only about "me". Third, understand that holiness in many ways stems from wholeness. I noted above that human life is a complex interrelation of several aspects of existence. We are physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and social beings. Understanding how these things connect allows us to see how our calling weaves through our whole life.
Again, this isn't anything new; and really, from whichever angle you look at it we still arrive at the same place:
The whole of me is called, in the fullness of who I am, to love and serve God and others throughout all of my life.
The invitation of such a calling is to never stop discerning, to dare to be life-long discerners, not in the sense that we never make any commitments; but in the sense that we are constantly open to God working powerfully in and through our lives in all of its situations. In so doing, we become more than purposeful and more than passionate, we become Called, grounded in who we are in God, for God and for others. And it doesn't matter which text books you read, that is the best sort of life you can live.