7 Quotes on Vocation from Parker J. Palmer’s “Let Your Life Speak”

“The place God calls you is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” 

I’ve heard this quote by Frederick Buechner — shoutout if you already knew his name is pronounced BEAK-ner — about a billion times. It’s one of the most popular bits of advice for people of faith seeking to discover their life’s purpose, calling, and vocation.

Recently, I picked up another popular book on vocational discernment, Let Your Life Speak by Quaker writer, teacher, and activist Parker J. Palmer.

Long story short, it’s fantastic, and kind of makes my eyes leak. Here are some of his powerful quotes on determining our life’s calling and purpose.

1. “Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it…”

“Vocation does not mean a goal that I pursue. It means a calling that I hear. Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.”

2. No matter how hard we try to do this on our own, in the end, it’s really not about us.

“Vocation does not come from willfulness. It comes from listening. I must listen to my life and try to understand what it is truly about—quite apart from what I would like it to be about—or my life will never represent anything real in the world, no matter how earnest my intentions.”

3. None of us are perfect, and that’s okay.

“I speak often of my own mistakes—of wrong turns I have taken, of misreadings of my own reality—for hidden in these moments are important clues to my own vocation. I do not feel despondent about my mistakes […] though I grieve the pain they have sometimes caused others.”

4. You may need to shift your entire mindset.

“Today I understand vocation quite differently—not as a goal to be achieved but as 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 selfhood given me at birth by God.”

5. “… and then we spend the first half of our lives…”

“We arrive in this world with birthright gifts—then we spend the first half of our livers abandoning them or letting others disabuse us of them. As young people, we are surrounded by expectations that may have little to do with who we really are, expectations held by people who are not trying to discern our selfhood but to fit us into slots. In families, schools, workplaces, and religious communities, we are trained away from true self towards images of acceptability; under social pressures like racism and sexism our original shape is deformed beyond recognition; and we ourselves, drive by fear, too often betray true self to gain the approval of others.”

6. In the end, it’s simply something you “can’t not do.”

“Vocation at its deepest level is not, ‘Oh boy, do I want to go to this strange place where I have to learn a new way to live and where no one, including me, understands what I’m doing.’ Vocation at its deepest level is, ‘This is something I can’t not do, for reasons I’m unable to explain to anyone else and don’t fully understand myself but are nonetheless compelling.”

7. Stop looking for a tiny window to crawl out. God has so much more waiting for you.

“As often happens on the spiritual journey, we have arrived at the heart of a paradox: each time a door closes, the rest of the world opens up. All we need to do is stop pounding on the door that just closed, turn around—which puts the door behind us—and welcome the largeness of life that not lies open to our souls. The door that closed kept us from entering a room, but what now lies before us is the rest of reality.”

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