Vocation Discernment: My Optimistic Vision
When I was eight, my grandfather confirmed me a member of the church. The Primary President recorded the blessing and gave it to me as a gift. The second line is striking, coming from this warm but very traditional family patriarch: “I bless you with a career that will serve your fellow man.”
When President Benson gave his To the Mothers of Zion talk a couple of years later, my dad came home from teaching his pre-med course at BYU and noted how confused, sad, and angry many of his female students were that day. He clearly felt agitated himself. Sometime later, he took me aside and reminded me that I had a world of choices in front of me, that he trusted me to make good decisions with my life, and that I would always have his support. For that, the word grateful seems painfully inadequate.
Mormons have a language problem when we talk about employment vs. motherhood for women. We get tied up talking about it, finding words that won’t polarize us. Working inside the home? Outside the home? Working because you want to? Working because you have to?
As women of faith, I think we should use the word vocation far more often than we do. Vocation – from Latin “vocare” or “to call” – refers to an occupation (or endeavor) that a person feels called to because of her individual disposition, skills, talents, and gifts.
What if we adopted the language of “vocation discernment” as we talk to our young women, in a church context, about education and career goals? It preserves the spiritual core of decision-making without proscribing a singular “ideal” life path for women that views career training as simply a safety net.
When I think about a feasible vision for addressing this topic for the next generation of young women, I think of a dear friend of mine who runs a Catholic girls school — one that takes its religion seriously! Her school is an exceptionally vibrant place. Here is an excerpt from its vision statement:
What this world needs is not simply women who are smart, competent and savvy, but women of integrity who put Christian principles into practice. Our alumnae stand out as leaders in every professional field. Living across the country and in Europe, Asia and South America, they are mothers and engineers, CEO’s and published authors. They are scientists, film editors and television producers; they are lawyers, medical professionals and educators. They are inspired by faith, character and vision.
Wouldn’t that be an awesome vision statement for Personal Progress? Wouldn’t it be unifying and richly respectful (and encouraging!) of the opportunities available to women, while still reverencing parenthood as one of those opportunities?
Our Catholic friends use the term “vocation discernment” in this way: Does one have a “calling” to enter religious life — as a priest, nun, monk, oblate, etc. — or does one’s vocation lie elsewhere? The discernment process requires time, reflection, listening to one’s inner voice and asking for insight from a Higher voice. It can take years.
This concept fits our theology well. It would help us be respectful and embracing of divergent life-paths for women. In fact, vocation discernment is already implicitly embedded in the Young Women’s values:
- Divine Nature: I have inherited divine qualities, which I will strive to develop.
- Individual Worth: I am of infinite worth with my own divine mission, which I will strive to fulfill.
- Knowledge: I will continually seek opportunities for learning and growth.
Vocation is a liberating term. It speaks to personal revelation and to knowing oneself and one’s divine potential. It allows me to rejoice, unapologetically, pursuing a “career that serves my fellow (wo)man” (I found one – thanks, Grandpa!). It allows a close friend to draw strength in sensing that being at home with her children in these years is her vocation, her calling.
It means that instead of feeling threatened by one another, we could rejoice in our collective power as “women of integrity who put Christian principles into practice. [Mormon women] are mothers and engineers, CEO’s and published authors. They are scientists, film editors and television producers; they are lawyers, medical professionals and educators. They are inspired by faith, character and vision.”
Now how do I get on the Personal Progress curriculum committee . . .?
P.S. For a grassroots opportunity to learn about Mormon women and their vocations, visit Mormon Women Project.
We are a group of LDS women committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ and interested in advancing gender equity within the LDS church. We are working on exciting plans to support members in their efforts to work together in a charitable and effective manner to encourage each member’s full participation in the gospel.