By Jasmine Obeyesekere Fernando

Calling All Years Good: A Discussion Guide

Did you ever consider that children including infants have a vocation? How about the very old? Or persons with dementia? Or that a given season in our lives might have multiple callings? How about transitioning to different stages of life and finding the callings therein? How can we live these multiplicities of callings in an integrated way?

Kathleen Cahalan, Bonnie Miller-McLemore, Kathleen Turpin, Matt Bloom, Joyce Mercer, and Jane Patterson offer a unique perspective on Vocation by suggesting Lifespan as the lens through which we can view our callings and invite us to the good work God has for us to do in each of these time periods.

Dr.Cahalan is professor of practical theology at Saint John’s Graduate School of Theology and Seminary where she teaches courses on pastoral ministry, pastoral care, and spirituality. She is also the director of the Collegeville Institute Seminars, a collaborative research project that studies various aspects of vocation.

Dr. Bonnie Miller-McLemore is E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of Religion, Psychology, and Culture at Vanderbilt University. She has particular interest in the person and lived theology in the midst of everyday struggles, such as illness, dying, working, and parenting.

Interested in hearing from the author herself? Listen to our bookclub conversation with Dr. Kathleen Cahalan through our podcast.

Chapter 2: Callings over a lifetime

1. How do you respond to the ideas that our callings are rooted in our contexts, that we have callings at each stage of our lives and that our callings involve community?

  • “context is not something added to our callings; these conditions comprise the substance of vocation” (p 14)
  • “vocation is the language to describe the lifelong task of figuring out our life purpose in relationship to God’s purposes” (p 16)
  • “the individual person does not find a calling on her own but only in the context of community” (p 20)

Chapter 3: Childhood

1. Looking back, are there moments in childhood that shaped you? How might they have been theologically or vocationally relevant? (p 46)

2. In what ways have interactions with small children been ‘forming’ experiences for you? Have they ‘called’ us to find wonder and awe or provoke care etc.?

3. In what ways can we help build into the children in our lives (our own/of friends & family) so that they can look back on their childhoods as theologically/vocationally relevant? (for personal reflection only)

Chapter 4: Adolescence

1. What experiences of your own adolescence do you appreciate? How have they shaped you?

2. “What breaks your heart about the world? What are you doing when you feel most fully alive? What are you doing when you feel most connected to people? What moments have made you feel proud of what you are able to contribute to a group or project?” (pg. 86)

  • How can these questions for adolescents, be helpful to us – especially if we are in a stage of transition, need discernment for the future or need clarity about the present?
  • Are there ways in which these questions are nudging you in a specific direction? (for personal reflection only)

3. How have you been shaped by the "prophetic voice" of adolescents? (i.e. their ability to read the cultural landscape and be truth-tellers)

4. In what ways can we influence the teens in our lives to live into their callings in their "here and now"? How can we help adolescents value their life experience when the dominant narrative seems to say "wait it out"?

Chapter 5: Younger Adulthood

1. What aspect of younger adulthood resonated most with you? Why?

2. “Moving back into their parents’ home violates one of the cultural markers of successful adulthood, it raises existential questions whether or not a person has achieved full adult status and agency.” (pg. 102)

  • How can younger adults handle delayed achievement well? How can they still feel significant and contribute in the here and now? How can older adults help ease their angst?

3. How do you see younger adults caught up in something bigger than themselves, when their lives include a lot of impermanence and old cultural certainties are in flux?

Chapter 6: Middle Adulthood

1. Our “habitual ways of living into our vocation is not what is needed at the moment,” but discerning the “moment’s calling.” (pp. 120-121 — reflection on Martha and Mary)

  • What do you think about living into our vocation “with more flexibility?” 

2. In the middle of juggling priorities, what has been your experience of attempting to practice Kairos time (doing the right thing at the right time)? (pg. 126)

3. How do you respond to the idea of "centering" our lives rather than "finding balance"? (pp. 141-142)

4. What role have exemplars played in being "wise guides," helping you to navigate the callings of your own life? How might you be an exemplar to younger adults? 

Chapter 7: Late Adulthood

1. What observations of late adulthood resonated the most with you? Why?

2. How do you respond to Cahalan’s following observation?

“The transition out of middle adulthood into this new phase is one of increasing anxiety to many – it entails separating from a fairly long period of stable identity attached to particular roles into a period of uncertainty. And this uncertainty makes late adulthood ripe for vocational searching.” (pg. 153)

3. Do you have explicit anxieties as you anticipate retirement? Why do you think these specific anxieties come to the fore? 

4. Does viewing late adulthood as a calling bring a different perspective to retirement? Are you hopeful that you can live with purpose?

5. Late adulthood involves dealing with loss. “The point of grieving is not to forget what was lost, but to move away from the strength the loss holds in our hearts and to form new attachments.” (pg. 161) How do you respond to this statement?

6. How can late adulthood be a time of spiritual growth, where we increasingly let go of our "false self" and cultivate our "true self"?

Chapter 8: Older Adulthood     

1. How do you respond to the following observations of the author?

  • “Coming to terms with physical decay, letting go of attachments to culturally formed notions of physical beauty, grieving the body’s losses of function and learning how to die all constitute the central tasks of vocation at this stage” (pg. 183)
  • “Interdependence… does not rely on equality of physical capacity” (pg. 185)
  • Maintaining intergenerational community is important for self-esteem. (pg. 187)

2. What experiences do you have of being "formed" by inhabiting slow time with an older adult?

3. How can we alleviate the loneliness that is a “challenging staple” of older adult life?

4. The author feels that one of the key callings of older adults — especially frail ones — is the capacities it evokes in others. We might be also familiar with the idea that the health of a society is found in how it treats its weakest members. How are we doing as a society?

5.The author talks about the “receptive dependent mode” of being an older adult as a “vocation of forming others in faith by evoking in them the practices, habits and dispositions of faithful people.” (pg. 194) What might be some of these dispositions & practices?

About the Author

Jasmine is WSAP’s book club host and vocation specialist. She hails from Sri Lanka and has a thirty-year relationship with its national university ministry, the Fellowship of Christian University Students (FOCUS). She has also been involved with InterVarsity for twenty years. She has a BA (Hons.) in English from the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka, and a MA in International Relations from Syracuse University. She loves writing about theology impacting real life and enjoys British, Korean, and Chinese drama. Jasmine lives in upstate New York with her professor husband and two teenage children.

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