Vocation is a scary word. I don’t think I ever heard it until orientation during my freshman year of college, and then suddenly, we were bombarded with questions such as, “Who am I?” “Where am I going?” “Why am I here?” I mostly shrugged them off. It was clear to me that I was Amanda Weber, going to classes to learn about stuff.
Since that day, now 5 years ago, I have heard “vocation” defined and redefined, torn apart and jumbled back together in more ways than I knew were possible. One such voice said that vocation is where your greatest gifts meet the world’s greatest needs. She said that rather than being selfish or completely selfless, vocation was finding self among others. Perhaps my favorite explanation of vocation comes from Jerry Johnson – one of my college supervisors – who said that vocation is “finding a better job.” You get a job, he said, you figure out what you like and don’t like about it, and then you find a better job. The process never stops – vocation is perhaps just as essential to your every day as brushing your teeth.
About a month ago, I had the opportunity to attend a retreat in Minneapolis through the Volunteers Exploring Vocation (VEV) program of the Fund for Theological Education (FTE). Not only did this present me with a lot of intimidating acronyms, but the retreat also provided the time and space for reflection on the word I’ve felt myself running from for the last several years. 30 former volunteers were gathered for four days to process our volunteer year together – some from Lutheran Volunteer Corps, Jesuit Volunteer Corps, Mennonite Volunteer Services, and plenty of others. What has happened to us in the last year, and perhaps more importantly, what does it mean for us now as we go forward? And lest we forget – where is God in all of this??
I wish I could say that I left the retreat with a clear idea of what my vocation is. One of the wonderful opportunities I had during my time in Minneapolis was to participate in a Quaker Clearness Committee. This was a new concept to me, and one that I was quickly excited about! Clearness committees are a discernment approach in the Quaker tradition where a focus person presents a problem/conflict/question to a supportive group of about 5 people. Generally, this is quite a formal process. The focus person would write a statement of concern and send it to selected mentors/friends along with an invitation to join the clearness committee. Whoever accepts becomes a part of a process that may take days, weeks, or even months as the group helps the focus person with their issue. The interesting thing, however, is that the clearness committee is not allowed to give any advice, but only to ask questions. These sessions are designed to help the focus person find his or her own inner guidance on the question at hand. I was asked what I would like my role to be in a Quaker Clearness Committee session at our retreat, and I offered to be a focus person. I figured I had plenty of problems that I needed help solving. My problem/conflict/question that I presented to my small group was: Should I go to graduate school for conducting next fall? Now, what I’d really like is just for someone to tell me yes or no. But the beauty (and challenge) of this exercise is that I still have to answer my own question – alone. My group did a wonderful job at presenting me (and sometimes bombarding me) with prodding questions for an hour. What are your fears if you DO go to grad school in the fall? What are your fears if you DON’T? Why do you want to go to grad school at all? Are there other places you can find what you’re looking for at grad school? Do you feel like your current job and community are challenging you intellectually?
In most Quaker Clearness Committees, you meet as many times as needed until the focus person feels their issue has been addressed. We limited ours to an hour, just to give us a taste of what was a new activity to almost all of us. That’s probably a good thing, because frankly, I don’t think I’ll ever have this vocation thing figured out, and my poor Quaker Clearness Committee would accompany me to my grave. I left that session feeling both refreshed and overloaded. So I’m sure you’re wondering…how did I resolve this conflict? Well, I didn’t apply to grad school. And that’s basically it. It’s not that I didn’t want to, I just wasn’t spending my free time on applications, and I wasn’t too bothered by it either. I suppose that says something, though I’m not entirely sure what. And I still don’t know what that means for me once this year is up… I’ll have to organize another Quaker Clearness Committee and get back to you…