This chapter starts Part Three of the book addressing discerning vocation, presence, identity, and time. It is personal as we explore the call of God in us and our vocation. “What is God calling me to do?” “Where is God calling me to go?” “Where do I belong?” These questions are stated in the beginning of this chapter.
Nouwen relates there were often two inner voices that created a tension. I have experienced something similar and I am sure it can be named in many ways. One voice may say to stay while the other says to go. Nouwen names the tension for him in that one voice would say be your own person, be independent, make it your own, and make others proud. The other voice would say: whatever you do, even if not too interesting, stay close to the heart of Jesus and God’s love. He then relates with honesty the way he tried to appease and please both voices by becoming a hyphenated person of priest-psychologist.
I related to my time in seminary when conversations around bi-vocational calls were increasingly common and encouraged. Religious institutions were seeing the changes in our country where many pastor salaries do not keep up and provide compensation that matches the cost of the education they have and the job they are often asked to do. They saw that churches and religious institutions have been on the decline in recent decades and the money and resources are not present to have the same number of positions and level of compensation as before as costs increase. Bi-vocational calls seemed a good option as churches join together with shared financial arrangements for pastors and more churches look for part-time ministers. The Biblical precedent is there as well with Paul as a preacher and tent maker. The future looks to be increasingly going in this direction as less pastors come out of seminary at about half the rate of current pastors retiring. We are already seeing how churches and their leadership are and will look increasingly different in the future because of these changing circumstances.
Yet, as Nouwen points out, it can be challenging to live a hyphenated life. On one hand, it may seem convenient, or what needs to be done, trying to meet the needs of people and adjust to the circumstances. For Nouwen, in situations when being a priest wasn’t as welcome he could conveniently play up the, “Well I am a psychologist” part of his vocation and the other way around to fit in with his religious community. He could state the qualifications and credentials of being a priest or a psychologist when necessary. For Nouwen this was still an uneasy tension though as he did not feel much peace. Yet, through his life and discernment of his vocational calling, he reminded himself and others that God had a special role for each person to fulfill staying close to God's heart and being guided by God to know what the call is when you must know it. Nouwen seemed to find that peace as a chaplain at Daybreak, a L'Arche community in Toronto, where he lived in community with 50 handicapped or disabled persons and 50 assistants.
Then the question of, “Can I really do what God is calling me to do?” comes up. As parts of the call become clear, many times the answer seems to be "no" or "not yet." However, God is walking with us making what seems impossible, to actually be possible. We can, with God’s help, as obstacles are removed and new skills are learned and trust is built. Many steps along the way God is teaching and revealing to us something useful for the next step living more fully committed to God's will and God's way where God’s heart calls to each of us. Vocation refers to God's calling. It is not that we all take the public role of pastor, priest, rabbi, etc. As children of God we each have a deep vocation to daily proclaim by word and deed God’s love that we have come to know and see God active in the world. There is often much prayer and conversations that reveal affirmations from God about what way to go and what purpose to fulfill that is unique to each one of us while affirming our identity as beloved children of God.