My dear friend, Mary Vermeer, sent me a book last week. It is called, Let Your Life Speak (Listening for the Voice of Vocation) by Parker Palmer. On the first page is the poem, "Ask Me" by William Stafford (bold added):
Some time when the river is ice ask meAsk me whether what I have done is my life. This is quite a provocative statement and it comes at the end of 2012, a year of great internal, soul-searching wrestling for me. The author says this about that statement:
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life. Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.
I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait. We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.
[The poet's words] remind me of moments when it is clear - if I have eyes to see - that the life I am living is not the same as the life that wants to live in me...What am I meant to do? Who am I meant to be?The author then explains that he ran across this old Quaker statement,"Let your life speak." At first he believed that the quote meant to let your actions speak for what you believe in - your truths and values. But as he grew older he came to realize something different:
Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent...I must listen for the truths and values at the heart of my own identity, not the standards by which I must live - but the standards by which I cannot help but live if I am living my own life.The great thing is that when we stop and listen, we can't help but hear our Creator. When we stop and listen, we can't help but know who we are and whose we are. When we stop and listen, we hear what truths, values, and standards we already embody through Christ, not of our own decision. When we stop and listen, we can't help but find our place and our calling. It is IN us and WILL speak...when we stop and listen.
But stopping to listen is difficult. It takes time. It takes discipline. It takes courage. It can be painful as you hear things about yourself that you don't want to hear; as you begin to understand that your true self does not line up with how our ego tries to identify ourselves. Is the life that we are living the life that we were called to live? That can truly be a scary question...especially if you have a hunch that the answer is no.
This past year I took a leave of absence to stop and listen, and to do some wrestling. I faced some ugly truths about myself (and probably ignored as many as I faced!). In hindsight, I believe that this year held more personal growth for me than any other year in my life. I had to make many decisions by myself, about myself; many of decisions centered around the core of who I am. It is great, at the end of the year, to hold a book that summarizes many of my experiences in the past year.
Later in the book, May Sarton is quoted, saying
Now I become myself.How true that is - and to some degree, how sad it is that it takes so long! I, too, can say that I have been shaken and dissolved, and have worn other people's faces. I believe I am now finding my own. What a long time it takes to become the person one has always been! The author goes on to say,
It's taken time, many years and places.
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people's faces...
"Vocation is not a goal to be achieved, but rather a gift to be received...It comes from a voice "in here" calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original self-hood given me at birth by God. It is a strange gift, this birthright gift of self. Accepting it turns out to be even more demanding than attempting to become someone else. "That thought is beautiful - a gift to be received, not a goal to be achieved. What we are, who God has called us to be, is inside of us. We were created with it! It doesn't have to be a goal that we pass or fail, but rather a quiet unleashing of ourselves.
I don't think that the answer to the question, "Ask me whether what I have done is my life" is something that can be answered once. It's an ongoing question, because life moves and changes. We have to keep listening to the Holy Spirit, check our ego at the door every single day, and course correct as we battle between our flesh and the Spirit. What I answer today, may not be relevant tomorrow.
And so, as we move into a new year, dear friends, I pray that you too will consider the question and find joy in either the answer or in the journey toward finding the answer! My thanks to many of you who were involved in my wrestling this past year - those who listened and prayed, those who advised and counseled, those who poked and prodded! You know who you are...and you are very dear to my heart!
God bless you in 2013!