When It All Falls Apart

My call story, at least the one I’ve been retelling and perfecting for the last 10ish years was about how and why I became a teacher, moved from school to school, etc.  I can tell that story in my sleep.  I’ve drawn the line from middle school, to volleyball, to Baltimore, straight on through to Saint Martin.  All these things converging, all these stones that were placed, building cairns where I thought I was simply discarding pebbles. 

But sitting with our prompt this week, toting out this old well-worn story felt… well… off. Like it missed the point. Yes, I believe God’s fingerprints are all over that story and the work I’ve been called to do thus far.  But I’m not sure I’ll end up back in front of a classroom when I finish my graduate work next spring. And if that’s the case, this story no longer holds water.

In her book Untamed, Glennon Doyle writes, “Ask a woman who she is, and she’ll tell you who she loves, who she serves, and what she does.” Defining ourselves in this way is “what makes the world go round,” she says, but it is also what leaves us constantly feeling “untethered and afraid.”

This chapter (“sandcastles”) was like a punch to the gut for me.  If you were to ask me two years ago who I was, my students would have been the who that I loved, the who that I served, and the what that I did. And I can’t imagine a better way to describe the past year and a half of my life than untethered and afraid. No longer being a teacher has meant I’m constantly questioning how to define myself.

I’ve dedicated A LOT of time this past year thinking about how to reanswer this question. I’d been trying to listen for what’s next but kept coming up short.

But this week a new thought occurred to me: I’ve thought a lot about vocation but not nearly as much about call. I’ve equated call with vocation and vocation with career.  My “call story” was the story of how I found a career that I loved. Until I didn’t. 

I taught a unit on vocation for 4 years and I still missed the mark. My vocation story is not my call story.

Today I flipped through the pages of my journal from the last 12 months and I stumbled upon three clear moments of clarity and call. I remember writing each of these words down. I remember where I was sitting. I remember the passion that prompted them.

In El Salvador, I wrote: This place is making me thirsty for more – to DO more, BE more, and KNOW more.

In El Paso, I wrote: I am convinced more and more that my vocation is to elevate voices and share stories. This is resistance. This is the work of Christ.

In Magdala, I wrote: I heard this as I gazed on the mosaic of Jesus calling his apostles from the shores: You can do normal things well, but I’m calling you to do the great things.

All these moments of clarity, of God’s voice, were not about a career, but about a mode of being. 

So I’ve been asking myself questions: What’s the bigger story? What’s behind my call to the classroom? 

I wrote down things I care about: Faith. Creating Community. Education and Critical Thinking. Writing. Nature. Justice. Advocacy and Conversion. The destruction of harmful narratives. 

Looking at this list, I certainly see the potential for their creation in a classroom, but I’ve also begun to wonder where else might I do this work… as a writer? in a business with a meaningful mission? Because it wasn’t teaching I loved, it was what being in a classroom with young people allowed me to create. What if teaching was the MEANS and not the END?

In many ways, my call story is just beginning. I feel like, after hours of prayerful writing and reflection, I’ve arrived at the beginning of our prompt for this week. But the questions I’m asking now, while they have a far less satisfying, tied-up-and-presented-with-a-bow type feeling, also feel more true.

9 thoughts on “When It All Falls Apart

  1. El Salvador, El Paso and Magdala… such beautiful places to be called. Thirsting, elevating voices and being called from the shores. I love sitting with your prayers.

  2. I love this and I relate to it, especially the part about your questions being less satisfying and more true. It’s a courageous place to be. One that I struggle to remain in. I think it’s hard to let go of self-narratives even if they don’t fit anymore. Thank you for the challenge.

    1. After meeting you in our group on Wednesday, the questions in your post really stand out to me. “What’s the bigger (or maybe deeper) story? What’s behind your call to the classroom?” I’m very curious to hear more about your journey so far.

      I’m glad to have the chance to get to know you!

  3. Thank you, Erin, for the good and honest wrestling that you have written and shared with us here. I can very much resonate with the experience of having a neat personal narrative of “this is my call story” shift into something that no longer feels true and authentic. I think it’s a sign of growth and ongoing conversion – we are always constantly rewriting the chapters of our lives to see how God has brought us to the present and where God is pointing us in the future. It seems like a living out of the Paschal mystery – I allow one story I’ve been telling to myself about myself to fall away and die in order for a new, truer, more authentic story to emerge.

    I haven’t read Glennon Doyle’s book but can certainly resonate with the “gut punch” feeling when being challenged as you describe it – one of those mercies that doesn’t feel very tender in the moment, but is calling our attention to something we need to see! I appreciate your dividing out of “call story” from “vocation story” – and teaching as a means but not an end, necessarily. To end this week’s prompt by coming up with truer, less-tidy questions seems a good place to land. I can’t come up with the direct quotation off the top of my head, but this makes me think about Parker Palmer’s words that the most important thing is to come up with good questions.

    You may have already read this, but I also think return often to Rainer Maria’s Rilke’s words, which perhaps will land with you as you wrestle for deeper questions and a truer personal narrative: “I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

  4. Hi Erin,
    This is a wise and helpful reflection. I would ditto and underscore Rhonda’s reflection.

    I’m wondering about being “untethered and afraid”. I feel this in myself. It makes me think of Jesus asking Peter to walk on water! Jesus tells us so many times in scripture not to be afraid…so much easier said than done. Especially in a time where fear is all around us – pandemic, global warming, scary President. And great injustices are all around us too. How do you live with your fear and what do you do about it? I don’t have the answer just think it’s a good question you raise and it gets to the heart of our relationship with Jesus.

    I too am discerning about the new “who” …who do you want to be in relationship with more deeply? who do you want to create with? Is there a particular community you are seeking to be in relationship with?

    I believe God will answer you.

    I’m excited to get to journey with you and know more about how God acts in your life!

  5. I love the way you name so succinctly the moments of clarity you’ve had in the past twelve months, and I am even more drawn to the conclusion you draw that these moments, “were not about a career, but about a mode of being.” Maybe there is a call to step back from career and vocation and focus on that mode of being. What does this mode of being mean for you? Can you name ways that you’ve been living into that mode as a student? Thank you for being vulnerable and willing to not tie it up with a bow! Your authenticity brought forth a beautiful post.

  6. “Faith. Creating Community. Education and Critical Thinking. Writing. Nature. Justice. Advocacy and Conversion.” I am glad you have arrived at the beginning. Such beautiful gifts and loves. God is calling you forward. What is the next step?

  7. Yes! Oh yes. I felt instant kindred-ness with you in the brief time we shared in the zoom breakout earlier this week. Reading your reflection now I feel even deeper resonance. I am so grateful for your courage in letting your neatly tied up vocation story unravel, and for being with all the painful, confusing, unsettling uncertainty that has ensued. I think that might be one of the most vulnerable and disorienting places to be. And I am absolutely certain it is holy ground.
    Your new understanding of call as something distinct from and deeper than vocation-as-career reminds me of a sweet little Ignatian spirituality book called “Healing the Purpose of Your Life” by the Linns. The authors of that book describe vocation as your unique way of being – “the spirit that animates everything we do” and “the source quality or soul quality that links us to our highest becoming.” They offer this question: “What is the unique way I was created to give and receive love in the world?”

  8. Oh, how I get it about the familiar, self-limiting narrative one can tell in one’s sleep. I did that too for probably more years than you’ve been alive. I have no questions to offer as you look to re-frame a story that is deeper, wider, truer, more fulfilling. I simply say, “Rejoice that you are here now. Be gentle, even playful with yourself and relish the exploration and discovery.” In my family by marriage, there is a toast offered at wedding receptions, call it a blessing:it was first given by my husband to his brother, returned years later to my husband and me, then given again by my beloved to his daughter and our son-in-law: “May you always have the genuine sense of the beginning of things.” As your new sense of call unfolds, so may it be . . .

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