The Thing You Can’t Not Do

Some days are just an embarrassment of riches. Yesterday was one of them. At Weekly Manna, our speaker was Rev. Nancy Brantingham, Associate Rector at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Edina. Following that was the second part of the two-part program I organized on Interpreting the Bible and Ascertaining Religious Law, which today included a dialogue among Rabbi Norman Cohen (our presenter at the first part of the program two weeks ago), Fr. Dan Griffith, Mark Osler and me.

I’ll doubtless have something to say about the second of those in the coming days, but a few words about Nancy’s talk, which was on the subject of discerning vocation, a subject about which I’ve spoken and written quite a bit.

Nancy said many things about vocation that resonated with me (and used some of the same quotes I use when talking about vocation). But what I really loved was one simple statement she made: One’s vocation is that thing that one can’t not do.

The first thing that came to my mind when she said that was my daughter, Elena, and her singing. When she was in high school and singing with the Minnetonka Chamber Choir, the director once observed that the girls in the choir sing because they can’t not sing. When Elena told me about a particular piece of music she will be singing in a recital toward the end of this school term, she said it wasn’t one that she was originally assigned to do by her voice teacher. But she asked him to play it for her anyway and when he did, her immediate reaction was, I MUST sing this song. As she explains, when she hears a piece of music that touches her like that, she feels she has to sing it.

There are many thing my daughter can do…and do well. She writes. She plays piano. She is a go player, a taekwando black belt, etc. But she can also not do many of the things she is capable of doing well – and still be who she is.

However, she can’t not sing. She couldn’t not sing and still be fully who she is.

If you can picture in yourself or someone else what I can see in the relationship between my daughter and her singing, you can understand that vocation is not just one among many things we could be doing…something we fall into because it is convenient. Vocation is an expression of our deepest self. It is that which we can’t not do.


5 thoughts on “The Thing You Can’t Not Do

  1. One’s vocation is that thing that one can’t not do…

    How very true. Taking that statement a step further, true peace, happiness and fulfillment come when that vocation is being exercised as intended. Frustration and unrest will follow one who ignores their vocation, or has not yet embraced it as their “call.”

    Too many unfortunately mix up vocation and job, even within the ranks of the clergy. That being said, the concept of vocation reaches well beyond the ministry, where it is most often applied. I love the definition “that thing that one can’t not do” can apply and should, to anyones TRUE calling in life. shalom…

  2. Thanks for the reflections, Prof. Stabile! I really enjoyed both programs yesterday, too, and found Rev. Brantingham’s words challenging and inspiring. May we all pursue that which combines our deepest joy and deepest hunger, ultimately finding our truest satisfaction in Christ.

  3. How wonderful a reflection. Susan, thank you for sharing. Though my heart also aches most every time “…anyone’s TRUE calling in life,” is discussed.

    I have expereinced far too many crestfallen sighs from individuals feeling marginalized (for lack of confidence, often of their own volition) for not contributing or making a visible difference in the lives of others. Imagine the emotional struggles when their hands, their voices and their efforts are similar to a single grain of beach sand among many.

    As often as we encourage, ensuring that God loves them as they are, far too many are ever recognized – others, seldom noticed.

    How to acknowledge, affirm and encourage those unseen to embrace such a wonderful message?

  4. Credit for “That thing you can’t not do” must go to the wonderfully insightful Parker Palmer. I think it came from his book, “Let Your Life Speak”, a fabulous resource for reflecting on vocation.

    I love the example of Elena’s singing! Spot on!

    Thank you Professor Stabile and students of the law school for your gracious welcome.

    nancy brantingham

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