A thought from Kierkegaard at the beginning of another year:
What I really need is to be clear about what I am to do, not about what I must know…It is a question of understanding my destiny, of seeing what the Deity really wants me to do; the thing is to find a truth which is for me, to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die…
While in many ways I have found this, I find it helpful to regularly revisit my understanding of what God is calling me to be and do as there are often nuances, fresh glimpses, a revelation which offers a different perspective At the beginning of a new year, that is something I am taking some time to think and pray about…
Quote from Kierkegaard journal cited in Douglas Groothuis Philosophy in seven sentences IVP 2016 p123
In many ways I don’t like selfies as I look at them and see all the lines and wrinkles. But the lines and wrinkles are part of who I am, the life I’ve lived, the years that have passed. I chose this picture because it epitomizes for me one of those times when I feel most fully alive, walking by the sea. It is when walking by the sea that God in nature is most vocal to me.
Last weekend was the bag of books and hotel weekend. I want to share the opening paragraph of the first book I read as it is perhaps one of the most important concepts I know:
You have a place in this world. It is a place where awkwardness dissolves and you are most fully alive, therefore most fully human. You know this place very well, though you may feel far from it. Take a deep breath and hold it briefly. You know this place. You may not always know how to get to it, but you recognize it every time. Likely you first sensed its existence in early childhood. Over the subsequent course of your life, you may have stumbled into – and out of – this place of aliveness many times, especially during periods of significant upheaval or transition. These were brief moments of awakening when something way down inside suddenly lept to attention and cried, “Home!”
Sitting with a bag of books and reading and reading and reading feels like home to me. I have always loved books and ideas and concepts and that ability to get lost in a world for a while. Even though every book I read had a connection with my ministry it didn’t feel like work because it felt so privileged, precious and lifegiving. This feels like a blessed period of my life when I feel at home in my vocational choices. It has not always been so and I am aware that many I know still feel like they are in the dark wood of the title of the book I was reading.
Gifts of the Dark Wood Eric Elnes Nashville Abingdon Press 2015
“Many persons have the wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness…is not attained through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.” Helen Keller
I have so many things I am grateful to God for but very close to the top of the list is that I have a strong sense of calling and purpose. While study, teaching, writing, ordination and the like are a part of it I can find fulfillment in that sense of purpose in little everyday things too. On Sunday I preached on the story of the feeding of the 5000 and one of the things I talked about was how we can all bring people to Jesus in prayer even if we are not in a position to introduce people to Jesus in other days and I shared a story of a simple prayer and seeing it answered. There are many challenges in pursuing our purpose – misunderstandings, set backs, confusion but there is always that underlying core of happiness or perhaps joy may be a better word in doing what God created me to do.
One of my colleagues talked really passionately today about our function as CYM (www.childrenyouthmission.org) to encourage vocations to work with children and young people. It gave me a fresh insight as she talked about engaging with schools to encourage people to consider such work. It was at both school and church that my own vocation was nurtured – at school it was doing a summer service project working on a holiday club with the Church Army and at church working with the age group below mine – a junior leader! Although I am now ordained I have not lost the passion that has been there for so many years to work with children and young people and also to equip others to do that. When Ephesians 4.12 talks about equipping the saints for works of service that is what immediately leaps to mind for me.
I wonder about some of the people I have encountered across the years, coming home today it was ten year old Terry and the enormous purple turnip we painted when probably I should have been doing a Bible story with them, nine year old Neil who sometimes used to just come and sit on my lap, 14 year old Jenny who I walked hand in hand around Harrods with… I doubt they have any idea the difference they made in my life and how they helped me explore who I was becoming and what God was calling me to.
I feel immensely blessed to have such a strong sense of vocation and it would be something I would pray for others – having that sense of doing what God created me to do is one of things I most highly value. Nurturing vocation is one of those things that as youth workers we can give time and attention to which may make a difference to children and young people in the future.
I have blogged before about the film Field of Dreams but that it is fascinating to watch through the lens of vocation – the character Doc Graham in particular – if just a little bit we can pursue our passions it can be transformational.
One of our resources for our blogging has been people and places that encourage our honest reflections and going the distance. I am currently reading the memoirs of Eugene Peterson. He is perhaps most well known for his work on the Message Bible.
It is a very readable book and in the early chapters he looks at key times, places, people and situations that shaped, directed and clarified his calling as a Pastor. I have fallen in love with one of his ideas which gave me a new insight into ministry:
The ways in which the vocation of the pastor is conceived, develops, and comes to birth is unique to each pastor. The only modifier I can think of that might be useful in honouring the ambiguity and mystery involved in the working life of the pastor is ‘maybe’. Anne Tyler a few years ago wrote a novel with the title Saint Maybe. How about Pastor Maybe? That would serve both as a disclaimer to expertise (that if we could just copy the right model, we would have it down) and a ready reminder of the unavoidable ambiguity involved in this vocation. Pastor Maybe: given the loss of cultural and ecclesial consensus on how to live this life, none of us is sure of what we are doing much of the time, only maybe.
This ticks all my life and ministry desires for a ministry that can encompass bold and quiet confidence and humility. It is possibly a sign of getting old that potential answers to the dilemmas I am involved and am invited into are getting as grey as my hair, but ‘maybe’ the offering of options rather than definitives is not a sign of lack of confidence in my God, but hopefully a sign of my ability to be less opinionated and more humble and respectful of the complexity of the situations others share with me.
Confidence in God, definitely.
Eugene Peterson. A Memoir: The Pastor. New York: HarperOne, 2011, p6.
This is a model that Paul has developed over the years in his vocational work. One of the things we want to do with our blog is share some of the resources others have found helpful…
What brings you life?
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
What liberates your spirit?
|Pain:What breaks your heart?What do you think breaks God’s heart?
|Prophetic obedience:‘Not my will be done but yours’What do you hear God telling you to do?Scripture and words given or spoken over you
Loving and knowing who you are
- What are you good at?
- What are you proudest of achieving?
- Do what only you can do
- What do you have that others cannot give you?
- Values: What is important to you?
- Hold in tension
- Honouring all
- Critiquing and sharpening each other
- Trinitarian: Each facet is whole in and of its self
- Bring them all together
- Fruitfulness – What has gone well for you in the past?
- Faithfulness – What do you have to do to be you? Compelling constant
- Home – Where and when do you most feel at home, belong?
- Comfortable in your own skin
- Synergy – When the sun and moons gravitational pulls upon the earth all line up
- Not driven – You are more than your work
Contexts for reflection: theological, geographical, sociological, demographic…
If you could sum up your calling in a phrase or sentence what would that be? What is your core purpose?
(c) Paul Nash 2013 http://www.markerpostsandshelters.wordpress.com firstname.lastname@example.org.
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