When I started college, I thought I should become a doctor. “Should” is an important word in that sentence. I had received excellent grades in high school, and I had in my head the idea that smart students should put their school smarts to good use in high powered and prestigious fields like medicine and law. So upon entering college, I enrolled in introductory chemistry and biology classes in order to fulfill medical school pre-requisites. I earned good grades in these courses, but I did not enjoy them, nor did I really see the point in them. I simply jumped through the hoops of those classes because I thought someday it would all make sense—when I became a doctor.
Well, the someday it all made sense came in a very different form than graduation from medical school. I was sitting in a required theology class that every student at my college had to take in order to graduate. Glancing around the room, I noticed some students struggling to stay awake and others doodling mindlessly. But me—I drank it all in. I scribbled furious notes, trying to capture what the professor was saying because I found it all so interesting. In that moment, I knew that I would never go to medical school. I knew that I loved studying, reading, and writing about theology. I was not sure exactly what sort of career options that gave me, but I knew that I wanted to find out.
In retrospect, I had been preparing for that moment of discernment for years. Even though it felt like an out of the blue realization, it really was the culmination of years of experiences, of God working in my life and stirring my heart toward this vocation of doing theology. As I looked back over my middle school and high school years, I could see the road more clearly:
- The seventh grade Claire who refused to participate in religion class, as a silent act of protest against the teacher’s refusal to take up interesting questions of life, death, God, and faith in religion class, preferring instead bubble-sheet tests and yes and no answers;
- The sophomore Claire who was so intrigued by the idea that there is a “Jesus of history, Christ of faith,” that she asked her religion teacher for a recommendation for reading she could do outside of class so that she could learn more, reading which she did over Easter break;
- The junior Claire who used baby-sitting money to purchase a copy of Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim, the text for a class on prayer and spirituality.
I do not regret the time I spent in science courses in college; I did learn something from them, including a healthy respect for those who are called to scientific fields for their vocations. However, I wish that someone had told me earlier that vocation is not about doing what you feel you should do. When people do what they feel they should do, it often means they are following the voices of others and of the larger society, voices which may not have their best interest at heart. When I thought that I should be a doctor, I was following the idea that to go into a “lesser” profession would be to waste my gifts and talents.
But that is not how it works for vocation. There are no better or worse callings from God. There are simply callings that match our gifts and talents and others that do not. I do not burn with a love of the sciences, thus I would have floundered trying to get through science courses on the way to medical school. There are other people called to do that work.
In the end, vocation is about listening to the stirrings of your heart, or rather, listening to how God is stirring your heart. It is about taking time to pay attention to our day to day lives to see what really inspires our spirits. It is about listening for God’s call, in whatever form it may come. As it turns out, God had been talking to me through my religion teachers for a number of years. I guess I am not as smart as I thought, as it sure took me awhile (and way too many hours of chemistry labs) to figure out God’s invitation to me.
Think about your life now—at school, in your family, with your friends, at church, in extracurricular activities, at work.
Are there things you feel life you should do? Where do the voices of should’s comes from?
How might God be stirring your heart right now? What truly inspires your spirit?