The United Methodist Reporter is offering the latest headlines in the RSS format.
Q & A
Q&A: Helping students discern vocation Mary Jacobs, Mar 12, 2010
How can you live faithfully when you’re not quite sure where life is taking you? Many young people grapple with this question as they visit prospective colleges and undergo the application process.
Greg Garrett, a professor of English at Baylor University, offers some insights in his book, No Idea: Entrusting Your Journey to a God Who Knows (David C. Cook, 2009). Staff writer Mary Jacobs recently interviewed him via e-mail.
Much of the college application process seems to presume the applicant has a major or career in mind, but most 18-year-olds don’t know what they want to do. Is there any advantage in having college applicants choose a major or career as a “working hypothesis”? I think the prospective major is in many ways an inventory of passions—or should be. While people choose majors for lots of reasons, I think you should find a field that really interests and challenges you, as well as a field in which you can be of use to people. Parker Palmer says we’ll know we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing when we have a sense of joy about it, and I think this applies even to most classes in a major, so we may change our minds if we discover that we’re not passionate about something.
My 17-year-old daughter is applying to colleges. One day she wants to be an actress, the next a dermatologist, the next a dancer, the next a teacher. How do I even begin to guide her? There must be some core passions even in a list as diverse as this, so that might be a useful thing to have conversations about. But for someone who seems to be “bouncing” vocationally, it’s useful to remember that the years of college are still part of that decision-making process. I decided, for example, that although my major was pre-law, I didn’t want to be a lawyer, although I did still like reading, research and writing. What were fields where I could bring those passions to work?
It took me three years to make that decision, but it’s certainly better to make that decision before entering a profession. With your daughter, or a student like her, I’d encourage prayer, conversation and the encouragement to gradually focus from passions to a profession.
On a broader level, what should we be teaching high-school aged young people about vocational discernment? Can the church add anything to that process? I think many young people already are feeling this, but it is perhaps still counter-cultural to suggest that there are more important values than consumption, good jobs and big houses. Christian faith calls us to service of others, to self-sacrifice and to be a part of God’s healing work in the world. So as part of discernment, I tend to ask, “What do you believe God is calling you to do and be?” The church can help by providing a strong theological framework that helps form strong Christians into people willing to ask that question.
Are there ways that youth group activities and youth group leaders can aid and teach high school students about their vocational choices? Modeling those choices in their own lives and having conversations about the importance of discernment are both things that people working with youth can do. No one wants to take advice from someone who doesn’t practice what she preaches. But people who model joy and God’s love in their work and home lives will have a powerful influence on the youth they encounter. I see this happening daily in my work at Baylor University, where college students are invited to learn with and from professors and staff members who are passionate about education and formation.
Given that most kids won’t be headed to seminary, are there ways that God and faith still need to factor into the process of selecting a college, a major and ultimately a career? Every Christian has a vocation, even though most Christians are not called to become “professional Christians.” What that means is that the process of preparing for the future includes realizing that the future is about doing the things God has called us to do—taking care of our families and other responsibilities, and following the path of God’s love for us. Prayer, community and conscious choice are all essential in seeking God’s will and trying to follow it.
If we do what God has called us to do, it will be a joyful life; if we kick up our heels and try to choose our own way, or throw ourselves onto the bonfire of society’s values, we’ll probably end up unfulfilled and maybe even miserable, however much money we may make.