“Everything in the universe has a nature, which means limits as well as potentials, a truth well known by people who work daily with the things of the world. Making pottery, for example, involves more than telling the clay what to become. The clay presses back on the potter’s hands, telling her what it can and cannot do–and if she fails to listen, the outcome will be both frail and ungainly. Engineering involves more than telling materials what they must do. If the engineer does not honor the nature of the steel or the wood or the stone, his failure will go beyond aesthetics: the bridge or the building will collapse and put human life in peril.
The human self also has a nature, limits as well as potentials. If you seek vocation without understanding the material you are working with, what you build with your life will be ungainly and may well put lives in peril, your own and some of those around you. “Faking it” in the service of high values is no virtue and has nothing to do with vocation. It is an ignorant, sometimes arrogant, attempt to override one’s nature, and it will always fail.
Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic selfhood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be. As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks–we will also find our path of authentic service in the world. True vocation joins self and service, as Frederick Buechner asserts when he defines vocation as ‘the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.'” (Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker Palmer, pp. 15-16), Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.
One of the things that I love most about the book is Parker’s acknowledgement that we live within the tension of both our limitations and possibilities, our strengths and weaknesses. A lot of books on “calling” stress the idea or belief that we are able to do anything and everything we want to do, without recognizing the fact that we are sometimes limited. That sometimes our true self, in all its authenticity is limited in what it can do. We do not like to believe that. Some may find this very paralyzing, while others may find it freeing. I have fallen under both categories. I used to believe it a weakness that I could not do certain things, and instead I just tried harder and harder, or saw myself as a failure in that area. But I have come to now believe that recognizing our limitations is a gift, and instead of closing doors on us, allows us to move freely in the right direction.
Part of the battle in acknowledging our limitations is wrapped up in our identity. If we come to the place where we can’t do certain things or we feel like the doors have shut, that often most directly affects our identity and what we believe about ourselves. What we believe others think of us. What we believe God thinks about us. Our inability to live within the tension of both limitations and possibilities, strengths and weaknesses, is often our inability to believe that our identity rests in our relationship with Jesus Christ, rather than in the things we do.
I believe very strongly that we are most free when our identity rests in our relationship with Jesus Christ, and our vocation comes out of the knowledge of that relationship. We do not have a vocation and then come to God and say, “This is who I am.” Rather, we are who we are (Parker’s true self) when we are in relationship with Jesus Christ.