By Shelby Farthing
In his book entitled Let Your Life Speak, Parker J. Palmer describes the often harrowing journey of self-discovery in a way that seems calm, rather than chaotic. Parker J. Palmer is a practicing Quaker philosopher who juxtaposes typical Christian ideas of calling with a more contemplative approach. A calling, or a vocation, is something that many people spend their early twenties trying to come to grips with. I especially have struggled with understanding what it means to have a calling.
In the church in which I grew up, this idea was thrown around messily. Everybody seemed to have an idea of what it meant to have a calling, but no definition was ever presented to me. It created confusion and chaos in my life as I was trying to understand myself and my passions. I felt as if I had to have it all together. I felt as if I needed all of the answers. I spent copious amounts of time obsessing over anything and everything that brought me any amount of joy, big or small. I would question whether or not I could spend my entire life’s work on things such as art, theater, or teaching. I was trying to give myself a harsh deadline on finding my calling, and I was so caught up in the idea that my calling had to be my vocation. Then, my senior year of high school, my sweet mother bought me a copy of Parker J. Palmer’s short book about calling and vocation.
Palmer says, “The soul is like a wild animal—tough, resilient, savvy, self-sufficient, and yet exceedingly shy. If we want to see a wild animal, the last thing we should do is to go crashing out through the woods, shouting for the creature to come out. If we are willing to walk through the woods and sit silently for an hour or two at the base of the tree, the creature we are waiting for may well emerge, and out of the corner of our eye we will catch a glimpse of the precious wildness we seek.”
This quote shocked me. It completely ripped out the entire thought process I had established for myself in regards to calling. He describes a quiet and peaceful quest into the self, one that involves patience and perseverance. The way of finding oneself that Palmer describes requires an understanding that each person is a complex human being. Recognizing our inherent complexity demands not necessarily asking big, intense questions, but rather living a life that allows “letting one’s life speak.” Parker states that “Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you.” Take the time not to ask yourself more questions, but to find patterns in your life that may lead you to a deeper understanding of who you are. This was a lesson that I had to figure out my own. Instead of feeling anxious and worrisome about how I was going to spend my life, I was able to realize that I could trust myself to discover happiness in my own time. This process has been one of patience and contemplation.