” The marvelous thing is that . . . holiness is nothing we can earn. We don’t become holy by acquiring merit badges and Brownie points. It has nothing to do with virtue or job descriptions or morality. It is nothing we can do, in this do-it-yourself world. It is gift, sheer gift, waiting there to be recognized and received. We do not have to be qualified to be holy. We do not have to be qualified to be whole or, or healed.” ~ Madeleine L’Engle Walking On Water, p.57.
If you ask a room of first graders “Who in this class can climb Mt. Everest?” Hands will shoot into the air in response. You’ll also be asked what Mt. Everest is. Still, nearly every child will raise their hands. Pose the same question to seventh graders and you’ll get wrinkled foreheads and expressions of disbelief. They will ask you if you’re serious. They will judge you. They will judge themselves.
Merit badges, Brownie points, degrees and job titles measure achievement. With measurement comes an assessment of what’s good, what’s good enough and what isn’t. All too quickly life seems to become what we have or haven’t achieved. If we’re not careful, we can bring this parable by Anthony DeMello to life:
A group of tourists sits in a bus that is passing through gorgeously beautiful country; lakes and mountains and green fields and rivers. But the shades of the bus are pulled down. They do not have the slightest idea of what lies beyond the windows of the bus. And all the time of their journey is spent in squabbling over who will have the seat of honor in the bus, who will be applauded, who will be well considered. And so they remain till the journey’s end.
In the midst of our race to achieve, we’re called to holiness. It’s our fundamental vocation. Yet our holiness, our wholeness is not something we can earn. It’s a gift.
The other day I read a story about a mother who upon receiving her first born, exclaimed, “I don’t know what to do!” She echoed my kids mom who remarked when Bud was born that he “didn’t come with a manual.” Fortunately, a friend gave her the next best thing: Anne Lamott’s wonderful book Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year. Looking back, I think what she quickly learned to forget her anxiety and trust the deepest parts of herself. As Parker Palmer would say, she became who she always was.
[T]he idea that vocation, or calling, comes from a voice external to ourselves, a voice of moral demand that asks us to become someone we are not yet—someone different, someone better, someone just beyond our reach. . . . is rooted in a deep distrust of selfhood, in the belief that the sinful self will always be “selfish” unless corrected by external forces of virtue. It is a notion that made me feel inadequate to the task of living my own life, creating guilt about the distance between who I was and who I was supposed to be, leaving me exhausted as I labored to close the gap.
Today I understand vocation quite differently—not as a goal to be achieved but as a gift to be received. Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice “out there” calling me to become something I am not. It comes from a voice “in here” calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God. ~ Parker Palmer,Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation
When it comes to holiness, don’t worry that you’re not Dr. King or Mother Teresa. All you may need to be, is your true self.