The Mindset for a New Year: A Post by Prasanta Verma

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.

-T. S. Eliot

 

I am sitting in a room with about 70 other people, at a business conference, and the speaker transitions into a message of mindset. We are seated in six long tables on each side of the room, in a large conference center with picture windows overlooking a snowy hill with a half-frozen river at the bottom of the hill. A picturesque scene outdoors delights the attendees; indoors, the audience sits in rapt attention to the dynamic and energetic speaker.

We have two choices, the speaker says. She asks us some questions, poses a few hypothetical scenarios, and then asks us to consider what side we are on.

Abundance? Or scarcity?

As I sit listening, I thought I had already dealt with that particular mind-devil.

Hadn’t I already proclaimed that truth to myself? Hadn’t I already called out the lies of irrelevancy, worthlessness, and lack of confidence? I know the half-empty/half-full glass mindset.

Yet, the taunts of a hidden department of the scarcity mindset were peeping through, so tiny and barely perceptible, I almost missed it.

The difference, I realized, was the circumstance. I had dealt with the scarcity mindset on the personal level. Now, here I was, starting a new business, and recognized that troublesome voice lurking in my life, waiting for its chance to reappear. I had never started a new kind of business, and the monsters of depravity sought to destroy what I was building before I had barely begun.

The scarcity mindset was appearing in unwelcome thoughts such as, “There is no way you can do this.” Or, “You can’t succeed; you will fail.” And, “No one will call you, or hire you.” And other such negative thinking.

All of this is in stark contrast to the abundance mindset, which of course, says, things like, “You can do this.” Or, “You don’t have to be perfect, you just need to make progress.” Or, “You are here for a purpose and you are not alone.” Or, “You have something to offer. People will find you.” And so on.

I realized I had been living in the land of scarcity in regard to my work, though I thought I had slayed that particular demon.

The verse about “abundant life” came to mind, and it brought a new meaning, a new idea of abundance to me. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:10 (RSV).

The abundant life also applies to my thought life. I had not quite thought of it in that way before. My mind was living in a dry place, when a verdant and fruitful place was available to me. Moreover, the thief was still sneaking around, with intentions to destroy me.

As this new reality dawns upon me, I think it is a good way to begin a brand new year: with a mindset of abundance as opposed to scarcity.

With God, I have abundance and life. I have more than enough, and I am enough. I do not know what the year ahead holds, but there is a place for scarcity and its words: in the past. Abundance is our inheritance; it belongs in the future. And that is a better place to dwell.

***

Prasanta Verma, a poet, writer, and artist, is a member of The Contemplative Writer team. Born under an Asian sun, raised in the Appalachian foothills, Prasanta currently lives in the Midwest, is a mom of three, and also coaches high school debate. You can find her on Twitter @ pathoftreasure, Instagram prasanta_v_writer, and at her website: https://pathoftreasure.wordpress.com/.

What Is Your Vocation?

I’m someone who has long struggled with work and vocation. I have a sketchy employment history. I’ve had trouble paying the bills. I frequently wonder just what it is that God is calling me to do with my life.

On the subject of vocation, I’ve often come across the following quote from Frederick Buechner, the writer and theologian: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” It’s a beautiful thought; I can see why it’s quoted so often. But it hasn’t helped me much in my own struggles.

Like a Bible verse, Buechner’s quotation is often lifted out of context. There’s a lot more to it than just that one sentence. The quote comes from the book, Wishful Thinking. In this book, Buechner defines vocation as the work God calls a person to do. Then, in the first edition of the book, he writes:

The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done. If you really get a kick out of your work, you’ve presumably met requirement (a), but if your work is writing TV deodorant commercials, the chances are you’ve missed requirement (b). On the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leper colony, you have probably met requirement (b)…

 

The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.

I still think the last sentence of this passage is lovely. But when I read the paragraph preceding it, my first reaction was, What on earth is wrong with writing deodorant commercials? I actually think this job is worthwhile, and I think this for two reasons. First, because the world needs deodorant. So, yes, let’s write some ads and sell more of it! Second and more importantly–what if your job writing deodorant ads is what enables you to put food on the table? Provide for your family? Pay the bills?

Some of us, maybe even most of us, will not have jobs that in themselves fulfill the world’s deepest hunger. We cannot all be doctors in leper colonies, pastors, missionaries, hospice workers, or counselors. I deeply admire Buechner and have learned much from him (in fact, you’ll probably see me quoting some of his Advent writing pretty soon). However, I have reservations about Buechner’s treatment of vocation because it implies that some jobs are worth more to God than others. If you’re not a doctor or something similar, you’re somehow missing the mark. You’re not fulfilling your vocation. I think this view is wrong. It’s more than a bit elitist.

There was a time in my life when I was a college professor and a time when I was a Kelly Girl. I can tell you which job my peers most admired me for. But during my stint as a temp worker, I was pretty happy to be bringing in some much-needed income. I think I was fulfilling my vocation by working hard and helping my family, even if this work didn’t meet Buechner’s definition.

And what about the other part of Buechner’s famous quotation? The “deep gladness” part? Well, I wish that we could all find jobs that stem from a deep well of joy. But let’s face it, sometimes work is a 9 to 5 kind of thing. Sometimes it is just what pays the bills. And there is no shame in that. We should do the work we can in a way that glorifies God.

We do this because a job is not the same thing as a vocation. Originally, a vocation meant a divine call to the religious life. Its common usage gradually broadened to mean the particular gifts or interests God has given us or the call to a certain kind of life. But above all, a person’s vocation is her call to follow Jesus Christ in and through whatever work or tasks she does.

Let’s say that God has given you the gift of hospitality. Making others feel welcome, heard, cared for, and important is what gives you deep gladness. You could live out this calling in any number of jobs. An auto mechanic can show hospitality. So can a nurse. And a college professor. And a Kelly Girl. You can live out the joy of hospitality when you meet people on the street, when there’s a new face in your book group, or when you invite people to your home after church on Sunday. Our true vocations are never a 9 to 5 thing. They are a part of us, our spiritual core, and we can practice them wherever we are and whatever we do.

In the revised version of Wishful Thinking, the section on vocation was changed. The example of a “missed vocation” is not deodorant ad writer but cigarette ad writer (119). I suppose this makes a little more sense. Given what we know about cigarettes, we could conclude that promoting a harmful product would not be an ideal job OR vocation.

But I still don’t see what is wrong with writing commercials in general. Go and work. Pay your bills. Support yourself and your family. Pray. Love. Serve. Glorify God in all the tasks of daily life. This is your true vocation.