Book Thoughts: Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation

Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation was a 1999 Christian book by Parker L. Palmer. This is one of Matthew Kelly’s “ten books that will change your life”. Let Your Life Speak was about 115 pages long and had an introduction plus six chapters. The text described what Parker Palmer believes is the best way to find one’s place in the world. He used his own life story to illustrate all of his points. After the first few chapters I read some things that seemed a little disconcerting. They didn’t seem to fit with the Catholic faith. The author, Parker Palmer, is a Quaker, not a Catholic. As some of their beliefs do not line up with Catholic beliefs, the Catholic Church has made it clear that Catholics cannot join the Quaker movement. With a little effort, however, I was able to reconcile what I was reading to fit with the Catholic faith.

Palmer stressed that true happiness didn’t come from emulating other good people or even external moral codes but listening to the “inner voice”. With much time spent in deep thought, this inner voice could show a person their “true self”. The true self is what a person should do to be happy. This concerned me because it seemed Palmer was rejecting something like the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which contains the rules Catholics need to live by. It felt like Palmer was saying we should forget about that and just do what our hearts tell us.

I was able to reconcile this with the fact that the Catechism doesn’t spell out rules for every little detail of life. Instead, much of what we are called to do is left up to our own interpretation based on our situation in life. For example, the Catechism calls on Catholics to give to the poor, but it doesn’t say specifically how to do that. Every Catholic needs to look at their life to see what and how much to give. From this I was able to think of Palmer’s idea applied to a Catholic as finding balance in life. Everyone is unique in some way, so we can’t just copy everything that others do. Some of the rules others have, such as attending holy days of obligation, are also rules for ourselves. Other rules, such as volunteering in a homeless shelter, may not apply to me. Maybe I am called to serve inner city children instead. Both could be considered serving the poor.

The whole idea of the “inner voice” concerned me too because I know for a fact that many ideas that come to me are not good. That is what temptation is. We get internal ideas to do good but also to sin. I was able to reconcile the idea of the “inner voice” by thinking of it as simply The Holy Spirit speaking to us. This would mean we would need to discern what God was telling us through The Holy Spirit to discover what God knows will make us the most happy. After understanding how Palmer’s ideas could fit into the Catholic faith, everything made sense.

From a young age, Palmer had a certain plan he wanted to follow, but by age 35 he knew that plan wasn’t going to work. He tried to make it work, but he just wasn’t happy. Eventually, he fell into a deep depression. When he finally emerged from the dark cloud, he knew what to do with himself and was truly happy. I am not dealing with depression like Palmer was, but I am at a similar junction in life. The future is kind of unknown. I’m fairly happy on a daily basis, but I am not truly happy. Unlike Palmer though, I see many interesting possibilities in the future and am slowly working towards them. This gives me hope of becoming even happier than I am now.

I found Let Your Life Speak to be pretty slow reading. Palmer’s writing style did not flow all that well. He used many phrases that are not understandable at first glance. I found myself regularly stopping my reading to just think for ten or fifteen minutes. That was the only way to gain the full meaning about everything. Much of my energy was spent mentally translating what Palmer wrote into the language of my life, seeing if there was anything to be learned. Some of the “revelations” Palmer discovered were the same ones I have discovered.

One discovery Palmer made was to not feel guilty about past mistakes. Instead, he learned to treat them as growth opportunities. Yes, they were mistakes. Palmer would have preferred that he hadn’t made mistakes, but they also taught him what he shouldn’t be doing. He didn’t know what he should be doing, but at least he could check off the list something he would not be doing. Over time, the possible choices narrowed until the only choices left were ones that fit his personality and skill set.

I made the same discovery one day after thinking about my past. I had some regrets about past choices I had made, but then I realized that all of those mistakes shaped the person I am today. I would not have progressed as far as I have if every choice was perfect. The bad choices taught me what was important to God and myself. I am still not totally sure what I should be doing, but I am much further than before. Many years before my life was just aimless. Now I have a small list of things I already enjoy and a small list I want to pursue. Over time as I experience life, I will be able to narrow that list down to just a tiny handful, what God has made me to do.

Overall, I enjoyed Let Your Life Speak. It got me thinking about many things I don’t normally think about. It wasn’t a perfect book because I already knew much of what Palmer was teaching and the text was not the easiest to read, but the end result for me was a good reminder of what I am trying to do in my life. The book gave me some encouragement to try some of the things on my list and not worry about them failing. The book also made it clearer to me some of the things I shouldn’t be doing as they don’t fit my personality and skills.

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