by Rebecca Brothers | 19 July 2019 |
“I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory
When’s it gonna get me?
In my sleep, seven feet ahead of me?
If I see it comin’, do I run or do I let it be?
Is it like a beat without a melody? […]
I am not throwing away my shot.
I am not throwing away my shot.
Hey yo, I’m just like my country,
I’m young, scrappy, and hungry,
And I’m not throwing away my shot.”
(Lin-Manuel Miranda, “My Shot,” from Hamilton: An American Musical)
On January 13, 2016, author Elizabeth Gilbert, best known for her bestselling memoir of self-discovery, Eat Pray Love, wrote a Facebook post.
“Dear Ones,” she began, “I get a lot of questions from people who are seeking purpose and meaning in their lives. […] And I get a lot of questions from people who are absolutely confused about where their energy is going in life, and why.
“For anyone out there who is seeking purpose and meaning and direction in their lives, I thought it might be useful today to define and differentiate four very important words that relate to HOW WE SPEND OUR TIME IN LIFE.
“Are you ready?
“The four very important words are:
Gilbert goes on to delineate the differences between these terms. With hobbies, “The stakes are SUPER low […]. Even the word itself is adorable and non-threatening: HOBBY! What a cute word. Go get one.” A job is “how you take care of yourself in the world.” A career “is different from a job. A job is just a task that you do for money, but a career is something that you build over the years with energy, passion, and commitment. You don’t need to love your job, but I hope to heaven that you love your career.”
Now, a vocation … that’s different. “Your vocation,” says Gilbert, “is a summons that comes directly from the universe, and is communicated through the yearnings of your soul. While your career is about a relationship between you and the world; your vocation is about the relationship between you and God.”
A vocation can take many forms. As my father put it, “In Catholicism, if you want to show the seriousness of your relationship with God, you might become a priest or a monk or a nun. In Adventism, you might give up cheese.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about hobbies, jobs, careers, and vocations ever since June 2015, when I graduated from library school and took my first full-time job as an academic librarian. All my life, I’d been aiming for that first full-time job. All my life, strangers had been asking me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” as if that were the most interesting thing about me—and perhaps, in America and other capitalist societies, it is.
But there I was, finally working at that job I’d been telling strangers I wanted, finally in that dream career path. I thought that would be enough. Surely then I would feel fulfilled and useful. Surely then I would be happy.
But I wasn’t. “Maybe it’s the job,” I thought. “Maybe if I change jobs, I’ll be happy in this career path.” So I changed jobs. And hey presto … nothing happened. I still felt dissatisfied. I still felt a yearning for something more.
“Maybe I just need better hobbies, to distract me during my downtime,” I thought. So I dove into hospice volunteer work and knitting and crocheting. I tried to get back into running and yoga. I opened up my old journal again.
But that didn’t help either.
“Maybe it’s the career,” I thought. “Maybe I need a new career.”
So I looked at nursing and medicine and midwifery. I looked at social work and special education and public health.
And every time, I would get excited about the possibility of that career switch … for about two weeks. Then I would go back to the drawing board.
Finally, I went to my priest Susan, who is a lady of great wit and wisdom. I told her about my meandering path. She listened and nodded gravely. Then, out of the blue, she started telling me about how she felt called to the priesthood. She told me how the Holy Spirit felt like a dog constantly tugging at her pants leg—”the Hound of Heaven,” as she called it. Another friend, Rose, who’s currently finishing seminary, told me that her call to the priesthood felt like that feeling you get when you’re at work, and you know you’ve turned off the stove, but you can’t shake the notion that you left it on. Another friend, a nun named Sister Monica, described her call to monastic life as an incessant magnetic pull.
I told these things to my friend Elizabeth, who looked at me shrewdly and said, “So you’ve left the stove on.”
The more I thought about it … the more I realized she was right. I feel a calling. I have a vocation that I need to try out. It’s undeniably there, though I still struggle to own up to it publicly. Perhaps I’ll have the courage to do so in a future column.
Because here’s the thing: I believe and accept that God has plans for other people. I grew up hearing Jeremiah 29:11 at nearly every graduation I attended. I know the drill—plans to prosper you and not to harm you, etc., etc.
But I balk at believing that God could possibly have plans for little ol’ me. Maybe it’s a self-esteem thing, or a guilt thing, or a “raised female in a patriarchal society” thing, or all of the above. Nevertheless, it’s something I’m working on believing—without my usual habit of hiding behind the maxim of, “Oh, God can use me anywhere.” I’m working on tuning in to hear God say, “Yes, I can, but I think you’ll be happiest and most productive in this role, in this place, among these people.”
So I’m moving slowly and deliberately. I’m listening intently to hear what God has to say. As the great poet Mary Oliver put it in her poem “The Summer Day,” “Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?” And as Lin-Manuel Miranda made the lead character say in his musical Hamilton, “I am not throwing away my shot.”
I have this one wild and precious life to live, and I am not throwing away my shot.
So here’s my challenge to you: What Hound of Heaven is tugging at your pants leg? Why do you feel like you left the stove on?
Maybe it’s as easy—and as difficult—as realizing, “I’m in the wrong job” or “I’m in the wrong career.” Maybe it’s as easy—and as difficult—as forgiving someone, which can take the form of accepting that someone will never ask you to forgive them.
Or maybe, like I’m learning, it’s as easy—and as difficult—as recognizing and naming a vocation, a place where God has called you, a place “where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet,” as Frederick Buechner put it.
Whatever it is, may you have the grace, the courage, and the strength to follow the Hound of Heaven wherever it pulls you. Amen.
Rebecca Brothers is a graduate of Lincoln City Seventh-day Adventist School, Walla Walla University, and the University of Washington. She is a happy member of the Church of the Nativity in Huntsville, Alabama, and currently works as an academic librarian. Her proudest achievements include serving as a student missionary in Podkowa Leśna, Poland, and being completely submerged in mud during sixth-grade Outdoor School.