Book Review: Let Your Life Speak
Posted October 23, 2011on:
Let Your Life Speak: Listening to the Voice of Vocation by Parker Palmer, Jossey-Bass, 2000, 117 pp.
This has been one of my favorite books on one of my favorite topics since I first discovered it and read it ten years ago. There are very few books that I reread over and over, and this is one of them. There are even fewer books that I refuse to lend out to anyone, because I always want to have them around for reference. This is also one of those books. I recently reread it again, cover-to-cover, in preparation for a retreat with other pastors forming a new long-term group for professional development in mid-career. As always, the book offered new insights and renewed depth to my thoughts on my own vocation.
Parker Palmer tells his own story through this book—his search for vocation, his successes that turned out to be failures and failures that were really successes, his battle with depression, and his connection to Quaker spiritual practice. The book’s title comes from an old Quaker saying: “let your life speak.” Palmer talks about his youthful misunderstanding that this meant he needed to create a meaningful life that would speak powerful as a witness to the world. Instead, the wisdom of the book is quite the opposite:
Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent. (3)
Palmer speaks with great wisdom about the time it takes to become yourself (a phrase borrowed from a May Sarton poem); about how closing doors and missed opportunities shape our lives as much as possibilities and openings; about the fundamental “birthright gifts” each person has for vocation; and about setting limits and caring for self as stewardship of our gifts. He even has a chapter on leadership, where he talks about the importance of spiritual depth and introspection to leadership. His final chapter uses the metaphor of seasons to understand the cycles of vocation throughout our lives.
As I read this again this time around, I realized that this is a wonderful book about vocation at mid-life. This is a far cry from What Color Is Your Parachute? Instead of searching desperately for the person you should become, Palmer urges us to be still and discover the person that you already are. Therein lies the wisdom for understanding vocation.
I am tempted to start typing some of my favorite quotations from this book, but there are simply too many to choose. If you don’t know Let Your Life Speak, you should, and you should recommend it to anyone you know who is seeking their path and purpose in life. I have shared it with many people, and all have found it deeply insightful.