Saying “Yes” and Other Daily Doses of Discernment: a book review

There are a number of books ¬†about spiritual discernment, evidenced by the¬†shelf-full of books I own on discovering and discerning the will of God in times of choice. What sets Albert Haase’s¬†Saying Yes¬†apart from some of these, is his desire to set¬†discernment¬†within a larger frame than that decision-making-angst we feel when we are at a major crossroad. According to Haase, this book “highlights in a singular way that authentic Christian discernment requires daily listening to the megaphone God uses to communicate with us: the nitty-gritty of everyday life” (ix).

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Saying Yes: Discovering and Responding to God’s Will in Your Life¬†by Albert Haase, OFM

Albert Haase, OFM, is an ordained Franciscan priest, a preacher, teacher, spiritual director, and former missionary to mainland China. ¬†While his vocation is with the Franciscans, and he has plenty of examples of what discernment has looked like for him in that context, he draws broadly on the Christian tradition of discernment. He synthesizes patristic wisdom and Ignatian insights and the margins are peppered with quotations from Christian spiritual writers. ¬†This short book designed to help all Christian’s pursue God’s dream for their life.

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Called To Be Who We Are: a book review

Here is a book I’ve read cover-to-cover but am not done with yet:¬†Your Vocational Credo¬†by Deborah Koehn Loyd. In the past couple of weeks I resigned from a position I held for just short of a year and I am taking the time to reflect on my shape and life purpose as I discern next steps. Loyd’s book has been useful as I try to find a new place to serve in my passion. Loyd, is a church planter, pastor, teacher and professor at George Fox ¬†and wrote¬†Vocational Credo¬†to help others distill their calling by composing a ‘vocational credo.’ A Vocational Credo is a short statement which describes what what we were put on earth to do.

Loyd wants to enlarge our idea of vocation from thinking of it as a call to particular location, what we get paid to do, a super spiritual breath of God type experience or a non-specific generic view(39-40). Instead she argues, “Vocation is speaking or living from the truest form of self. Vocation doesn’t merely happen to us from the outside in a blinding light from heaven or an official ‘call’ from God. That sweet spot of significance suited only to you must be discovered from the inside as well. ¬†A thorough inner exploration is necessary because it will allow you to bring your most energized and creative self into the future. It will ignite passion in your soul that is specific to you. When passion collides with God-given opportunity, you have the elements of vocation and the power to change the world” (18-19).

So¬†Vocational Credo¬†involves inner work, so that we can serve God as our true selves. Loyd shares her own discovery of her calling as she probed the depths of past painful experience, her values, and how her passion, anger, joy revealed the particular way God called her to bring healing in the world. She invites us to take a similar sort of journey by creating a personal ‘vocational triangle’ reflecting on how our ‘first wound’ sets the trajectory of our calling, our personal values (which may be revealed to us through a favorite book or quote) and the way our shape allows us to respond to the needs of the world around us. By paying attention we can craft our credo: God created me to _________________ so that __________________.

Loyd also offers practical reflections and insights about ¬†‘toxic skills’ (things we can do well ¬†or need to do but feel drained by), the gift of opportunity in chaos and change, how to discover our personal vocational preferences, and leaving a legacy as part of our calling.

This book proves to be a practical tool for leaning into everything God wants to do through you. My undone-ness with it ¬†means it has alerted me to some inner-work I still need to do. For example, Loyd is poetic about the way pain sets the trajectory of ¬†our calling and she shares vulnerably about how her childhood experience of abuse silenced her voice. As she worked through the trauma of those experiences, she saw ways that the things that broke her aroused anger toward injustice and suffering which offered clues to her discovering her true self. I have spent some time in reflecting on how pain has shaped my journey and can point to some hurtful moments, but I don’t have a clear sense of how my ‘first wound’ shapes my life passion and purpose. I agree it does, but I have more work to do.

So I’ve read and commend this book as a tool for self reflection and discernment but I haven’t composed my vocational credo (to my satisfaction) yet. I give this four stars.

Note: I received this book from InterVarsity Press in exchange for my honest review.

On planting a garden and wondering what will grow

I’m planting a garden. Well not quite, but I have dug out a bed and spent the weekend weeding the front plots (still more weeds to go, I’m afraid). On Monday I went with my oldest daughter and got seeds from the hardware store. And today I’m planting seeds in seedling trays.

The sun that was here on the weekend has disappeared and the ground is wet and muddy. My front lawn is over tall and when it dries out a little I’ll be out mowing. Despite having lived in the North West for a few years I’m not a big fan of rain. I like the green and growth but hate the wet and cold (yes Midwesterners I get cold in much warmer weather than you go swimming in). I am hoping a garden will change my perspective. I love Luci Shaw’s short but pogninant poem Forecast:

planting seeds
inevitably
changes my feelings
about rain

And so I set to work planting seeds: lettuce, beans, zucchini, cucumber, tomatoes, peas, herbs. I don’t have much of a green thumb. Actually I have an unexperienced thumb. Sure I’ve pulled weeds and helped friends in their gardens(even worked for a landscaper one summer) but I have never had a garden of my own. I am excited about what new growth comes with planting.seedling trays

In other ways, I am trying to attend to what God might be planting in me. If you know my story, this past year has been hard. Never in my life have I had difficulty getting a job. Yet here I am with education and skill and a pretty good work ethic and no gainful employment. Most of the posts on this blog are upbeat and I have used this year to further my education and develop personally. But a week does not go by, where I don’t sit down feeling paralyzed by anxiety. Three kids and a wife and not much cash is frightening. I feel inadequate, useless and scared that I can’t provide better for my family. My wife has a great part time job, but that is are only income. In the midst of this, God has provided for us and cared for us in incredible ways and this has been a season of me learning to trust. Still I long for satisfying work and the ability to breathe easy.

By training and calling what I really want to do is ministry. Not getting a job as a pastor at every single church I have applied for has deflated my confidence and been an occasion for self doubt. Am I doing what I should be doing if I can’t even get a job? Living in sleepy suburbia has also been challenging. I believe in incarnational ministry and you plop me down in a city, any city, and I know how to love my neighbors. I would connect with homeless people and people on the margins; my ministry experience is urban and I know how to engage a a city creatively. Here, I barely know my neighbors and don’t know how to break through the fences suburbanites put up. Nobody wants to sit and talk, and my attempts at meaningfully connecting feel awkward. But for better or worse, I am in this place and I wonder: What is God doing? What is he growing this season?

And so I plant a garden and become rooted to place while I wait, wondering what will grow in the yard and in me.