Jane Cavanaugh has been leading Called to Work and Called to Life groups on vocation for the Collegeville Institute Seminars since 2010. Jane is a trained facilitator of small groups, a spiritual director, and leads retreats at The Vineyard.
Laura Kelly Fanucci interviewed Jane about her experience of leading small groups in congregations across the Twin Cities.
What is one surprising truth you have learned about vocation through facilitating Called to Life and Called to Work groups?
I realize what an “American” take many people have on vocation. By that I mean how “independent” people seem to be when they speak of their vocation. I noticed people’s language in the groups I facilitated. They spoke in these terms: “I thought it would be a good decision to join that church;” “I decided to take that job;” “I chose to marry her.”
What many people came to understand in the latter part of the sessions is that vocation is NOT about me taking the bull by the horns, making decisions about my life and hoping God blesses my decisions. Vocation is more about listening, following God’s direction. I am the responder in the vocation equation, not the generator.
My 8 year-old daughter, Tess, has a children’s book called Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. Too many people seem to be driving the bus of their own life without asking God’s input or listening to God’s direction. But in a vocational sense, we’re pigeons. God’s the bus driver.
What is one thing you wish more people understood about God’s call?
That God’s call is for everybody.
At the beginning of the Called to Work and Called to Life sessions that I led, it was surprising to hear how many people felt that God’s call was for other people, but not necessarily for them. It was rewarding for me, as the sessions progressed, to watch people come to the understanding that God may be calling them, too. They were insiders in the “calling club” and not outsiders as they had once believed. And everybody, and I mean everybody, is in the club.
Once people tried on the thought that God has been and is calling them even now, the questions changed from, “Is God calling me?” to “How is God calling me?” The latter is a much more exciting question for people.
It’s like the difference between two kids at an Easter egg hunt. Before the hunt begins, one kid stands there with his basket in hand thinking, “Are there hidden Easter eggs out there?” and the other stands there thinking, “I know there are tons of eggs out there. Where are they?” The second kid will probably have a lot more fun in the hunt!
What are some of the challenges you encounter in talking with people about their sense of calling?
I discovered that many people have a “needle in the haystack” concept of vocation. They think, “I have to search until I find that one perfect thing that God is calling me to do.” This is a very anxiety-producing thought to believe for some people, because they are continually living in a space of “What I am doing right now is not the right thing. There is something else that I should be doing.”
I liken it to the romantic idea of love: There is only one person for you—your soul mate—and you must find that one person to be happy. That’s a lot of pressure to find the right person. What if there is no right answer? What if your choice of mate is neither right nor wrong—it just gives you a different life?
Perhaps there is no wrong calling either. Can God be fully present in whatever you are doing? It was wonderful to see people embrace this idea as they went back to their work and loved ones after the sessions. Perhaps my calling is exactly where I am, doing exactly what I am doing.
God is not less present here than anywhere else and is working as fully in me now here as there, wherever there is. How liberating!
How is this work part of your own vocation?
When I first encountered the Called to Life and Called to Work material, my idea of my own vocation changed from the first session to the last session. I entered the sessions believing my vocation was to be a retreat director and spiritual director, because that’s what I do for a living. However, as the sessions progressed, I realized that my vocation was much broader.
My current understanding of my vocation is to encourage people through humor and heart. I am living this vocation far beyond the confines of what I get paid to do during the day. I can encourage people anywhere I meet them throughout the day or night—my husband, my daughter, my spiritual direction clients, the people who attend my retreats, the check-out girl at Walgreens, the mail man, etc.
The Called to Work material helped me detach vocation from “job.” It opened up a bigger arena in my life, where I can live out my vocation every moment of the day.
It has been a joy to encourage people to look for ways God is working in their lives. I was programmed from day 1 to be a cheerleader, and so it has been easy for me to say to people in this course: “Yes, God is working in you and through you!”
I believe laughter shortens the distance between people, and there has been a lot of laughter in the small groups I have led, due to the funny and surprising ways God shows up in people’s lives. The material in these programs has allowed me to ask rich questions and probe people to do soul work—the best kind of work there is!—and to get to the heart of things, which is so rewarding both for the participant and for me, the listener.
To learn more about our small group programs on vocation, check out Called to Life and Called to Work. You can also watch a video interview with Jane as part of our Lives Explored video series.
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