Vocation Is

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…

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6 thoughts on “Vocation Is

  1. Hey — I did a clearness committee @ VEV, too! I really liked mine, though I can’t remember what the question I put forth was, but I do remember some of what was said (and one particular question/response has really stuck with me).

    And as for vocation, I’ve been thinking a lot about it and what it means, and I’m always excited to read about vocation. Plus, I love to share blogs I’ve written, and on this issue I’ve written a few, so here they are, for your edification (though it looks like you’ve already realized/thought about much of what I’ve written):

    on vocation and discernment: http://ericbjorlin.wordpress.com/2008/04/26/on-vocation-and-discernment/

    location, relation, vocation: http://ericbjorlin.wordpress.com/2007/07/03/location-relation-vocation/

    (not quite as relevant)
    settling down: http://ericbjorlin.wordpress.com/2007/09/20/settling-down/

    home IS where the heart is: http://ericbjorlin.wordpress.com/2007/09/25/home-is-where-the-heart-is/

    (maybe you can make the links work better)

  2. Ms. Weber,
    Follow your passion. But in your case: “So many passions in life, so little time on earth.”
    From my perspective…
    Paint more murals
    Start a Vaseline web site
    Unless you teach, you can’t make a living with music
    Hickory is the symbol of the economic Somalia that America has become; avoid it
    No one is out there making a photographic record of the demise of the American community
    War-related occupations are always profitable
    You have several decades to resolve this vocation issue…
    …but every month, the rent has to be paid
    The next pandemic may make all vocation decisions irrelevant
    Alcohol makes most people think more clearly, but it does impair your ability to drive and do complicated technology operations
    Just get a better job. Whatever you do will benefit
    people; you can’t help it; it’s in your nature.
    Come visit some time.
    – Yoda

    • Yoda! You’ve been MIA…glad to see you’re back and sharing your expert advice on my blog. Lots has been happening in DC, but perhaps you’re too busy writing action plans for potential swine flu outbreaks at luther.

      • I was kind of upset about the nose piercing, but I’m getting over it.
        I need to subscribe to your blog instead of visiting it “when time permits” — because time NEVER permits.
        The H1N1 influenza isn’t much of a pandemic, but it’s the only one we’ve got, so the media has to hype it, I guess.
        At Luther, it’s been much less virulent, contagious and disruptive than the typical seasonal flu.
        So you can feel safe coming back to visit (hint).
        I’m not going to be here forever, you know (guilt).
        But then, I know you have lots more important things in your life now (passive aggressive).
        We’re having a Farm Party in January. Should I sent you an invitation (cap-off of the hint-guilt-passive aggressive manipulation)?
        On January 23, the Luther chapter of the Tammy Faye Undertakker Fan Club is going to Madison to cheer my daughter’s roller derby team; you could include that in your Midwest visit (inclusion of other influencers to broaden your sense of betrayal of the social group).
        We really miss you (true, but still manipulative).
        Send me an e-mail some time.
        – Yoda

  3. Pingback: Twenty-three and Stuck « DC Young Adults

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