Wednesday, January 28, 2015 – 9:50am
Photo by Chris Ford
BY PARKER J. PALMER (@PARKERJPALMER), WEEKLY COLUMNIST

A while back, I saw that my 21 year-old granddaughter had posted a quote from one of my books on her Facebook page. I was honored, of course.

Because my granddaughter is a lot smarter than I am about a lot of things, I thought I ought to take a look at what I wrote in that book.  Maybe there was something to it!

So here’s a story about what I was struggling with in my late thirties, when I lived and worked at Pendle Hill, the Quaker living-learning community near Philadelphia.

I was trying and failing to find a new direction for my life, and feeling very discouraged about it, when I got some life-changing counsel from an older woman named Ruth.

I’m older now than Ruth was then, but her counsel continues to guide me. If someone else finds it helpful, I’ll be glad I passed her wisdom along…

“If I were to discover a new direction, I though, it would be at Pendle Hill, a community rooted in prayer, study, and a vision of human possibility. But when I arrived and started sharing my vocational quandary, people responded with a traditional Quaker counsel that, despite all the good intentions, left me even more discouraged. ‘Have faith,’ they said, ‘and way will open.’

‘I have faith,’ I thought to myself. ‘What I don’t have is time to wait for “way” to open. I’m approaching middle age at warp speed, and I have yet to find a vocational path that feels right. The only way that’s opened so far is the wrong way.’

After a few months of deepening frustration, I took my troubles to an older Quaker woman well-known for her thoughtfulness and candor. ‘Ruth,’ I said, ‘people keep telling me that “way will open.” Well, I sit in the silence, I pray, I listen for my calling, but way is not opening. I’ve been trying to find my vocation for a long time, and I still don’t have the foggiest idea of what I’m meant to do. Way may open for other people, but it’s sure not opening for me.’

Ruth’s reply was a model of Quaker plain-speaking: ‘I’m a birthright Friend,’ she said somberly, ‘and in sixty-plus year of living, way has never opened in front of me.’ She paused, and I started sinking into despair. Was this wise woman telling me that the Quaker concept of guidance was a hoax? Then she spoke again, this time with a grin: ‘But a lot of way has closed behind me, and that’s had the same guiding effect.’

I laughed with her, laughed loud and long, the kind of laughter that comes when a simple truth exposes your heart for the needlessly neurotic mess it has become. Ruth’s honesty gave me a new way to look at my vocational journey, and my experience has long-since confirmed the lesson she taught me that day: there is as much guidance in what does not and cannot happen in my life as there is in what can and does — maybe more.”

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