Saturday, October 21, 2006
the daily vocational act
a beautiful autumn day in Nashville, Tenn.
I so love the fall! Mom and I spent a few days early this week in Nashville, hanging out with my older sister. We had a great time, chatting and shopping and knitting… and one night, our conversation turned to vocation and life work. Over my dish of Japanese udon noodles, I remembered why I’m so happy to be writing. How many other people get to follow their dreams?
Calvin did a great job of stirring my heart up to consider vocation. I guess it’s the grown-up version of the “What do you want to be when you grow up?” that I struggled with in kindergarten. (I said I wanted to be a banker. Ha!) At Calvin, we heard the Frederick Buechner definition of vocation so often that I almost know it by heart (Calvin friends, help me get the right words here): where your great passion and the world’s great hunger meet. Or something like that. But this idea of vocation absolutely swept me up—how can I reach out to the world? Using my gifts and talents, my circumstances and desires?
So, I modified that banker dream, as you well know, and find myself here at home for at least a year. What’s my answer to Buechner? I feel for younger girls, in junior high and high school, the ones that don’t fit in, that feel a bit lost, a bit despised. (Ring any bells? I was the quintessential loner in junior high! Ugh!) And I love writing—I love narrative, novels, stories that have the power to transform. Guess what. There’s a massive market for young adult fiction, and there are stories that those lost girls need to hear. That’s what I want to do. I want to write novels that help, that fit in those terribly lonely years, that give some courage to the ones who need it. Does that sound big?
The world has a hunger, and I have a passion. Vocation.
Trouble comes in the day to day. My days do not feel breathless and inspired—I don’t feel like I’m pursuing this beautiful dream. Don’t get me wrong: I love tackling the holes in my ever-evolving plotline, and I find joy in chasing after this goal. But my days feel very small and very quiet. I do goofy writing exercises. I read the dictionary. (Okay, the dictionary really is riveting and exciting. I discovered the definition of “rimy” the other day. Look it up and then work that one into your next conversation.)
My point is: there aren’t necessarily trumpets and fanfares in following your vocation, even if you’re lucky enough to discover it early on. I don’t know what I was expecting—my own theme song every time I turn on my computer? Confetti and balloons when I discover the real reason Character A left everything to come to Place B, which is where C had to happen?
Did I think that vocation had to be glamorous?
Maybe while I was studying and cranking out papers at school, I also managed to hype up Vocation until it became some huge golden plateau, with a giant sign to say “You Have Arrived!” I think I envisioned myself leaping out of bed at 6:00 every morning, rushing to my computer with another gorgeous plot twist, which revealed itself in a lyrical and poetic way, worthy of the Pulitzer I intend to earn.
Okay. You can stop laughing. Really.
So now, I want to argue for an amendment to that beautiful idea of vocation—or, if not an amendment, a footnote, something to help us remember: vocation is lived out, in twenty-four hours, in grey days, in days where the last thing I want to do is spend six hours squinting at a plot that seems suddenly weaker than water. Vocation is followed in days that may be amazing, and may be mundane. Vocation is lived amid messiness and unforeseen circumstances. Vocation can feel very small and very quiet.
I’m still a believer in life work. I still think that the Lord can use my novels, that he can bring those stories to the people who need them. I still think vocation can be all it was cracked up to be. But remembering that vocation can also be quiet guards me from disillusionment. Vocation can be pursued with basin and towel; vocation can be washing dirty feet. It can be learning another way to say “frosty,” and it can be taking myself to my computer to face another work day. Let’s encourage each other to do those daily acts of vocation.—jl