What Happens When Culture, Faith, and Vocation Collide?
I can’t tell you how many years I’ve waited to have the conversation.The one that goes like this.
Me: I’ve been thinking about what happens after I graduate.
Parents: When are you going to medical school?
Me: I’m not.
Theoretically, this should be a simple conversation. I’ve just never found the right words, or the right time, to do it.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been the good little Asian American church girl. I’m the obedient one, the nice one, the helpful one, and the one who does well in school.
For just as long, I’ve struggled with the dissatisfaction of living out a life that isn’t really mine.
Every time I’ve had an opportunity to voice my frustration, I’ve chickened out. Which means that, instead of having the conversation with my parents, I have this one every six months with my close friends (they're rarely happy about this).
Me: I can’t live two lives anymore—mine and theirs.
Friend: You should have a conversation with your. . .
Me: . . . parents? No way.
Just because this all is on repeat, though, doesn’t mean that God isn’t at work. These years of waiting have been transformative ones, and it is in the frustrating tension that I have grown and experienced God more deeply.
As I seek to understand my family’s point of view, I’ve learned to listen and empathize in a deeper way. I’ve spent many hours listening to their stories, noticing both the things that are said and those that are unsaid. I’ve learned what they fear, and how their experiences have shaped their values and perspective.
My grandmother has been writing down her life story, and she asked me to help her edit it. I agreed reluctantly, knowing that it would be extraordinarily emotionally taxing. As I work on it, I’m learning how much I resemble her: my stubbornness, my determination, and my firm belief that being a girl can’t stop me from doing world-changing things.
Engaging with her life has also taught me to honor her story and her point of view. She grew up in the midst of World War II and was shaped in innumerable ways by the Japanese occupation of Taiwan.
Although I still disagree with her on how prestige, honor, and family frame our lives, I do it now with more grace, understanding that her formative experiences were very different from mine, and that we may never completely share the same values and outlook on life. In short, God has taught me to shut up, listen, and care for others—not only within my family, but also each person that he brings my way.
In addition, I’ve learned to pray about things that seem impossible, and to trust that this part of my life is not beyond the redemptive grace of God. For the longest time, I could not pray about my hurt, because I thought it was stupid to be frustrated with such a small thing. I thought that God couldn’t possibly care about something so silly. I could not pray about my family, because I thought that change was impossible. Spoiler alert: God has proven me wrong.
One day, one of my mentors asked me: “Have you prayed about your relationship with your parents and your future direction?” It hit me like a punch in the gut. I didn’t trust God enough to give him my relationship with my parents, or to give him my future. I started to pray for my family as individuals, and for our relationship to each other. God answered.
At home, we usually prayed together for three reasons: to bless a meal, to bless our travels, and to bless our performance onstage or at school. We talked even less about who we were as Christians, or what being a Christian even meant. One night, I was halfway through a fruitless attempt at psyching myself up for the conversation with my dad when we somehow ended up praying together. During that time, we cried together, and he prayed for God’s direction in my future. In my wildest dreams, I never thought that we would ever be able to come before God together. We still have a long way to go, but I know that God is in the midst of all the brokenness.
God has also taught me to be less stupidly self-reliant. Yes, I know, theoretically, that God created us to live life in community, and the analogy of the body, and all that jazz. I’ve just always found that it’s hard for me to translate this concept from my head to my heart. But over and over, God has brought just the right people into my life. I have friends and non-biological family who patiently walk with me through life, enduring the frustration of hearing my broken record looping again and again through the same struggles. And sometimes, complete strangers walk into my life and speak the exact words I need to hear. God is teaching me that he’s got this, and that I can trust him with my whole life: the big and the small.
I still haven’t really had the conversation. Perhaps I never will. I’m still discerning what happens when culture, faith, and vocation collide. I don’t know what would be the best stewardship of what God has given me. But I do know this: through the tears, frustration, and heartache of waiting to have this conversation, God is at work.
The beauty of the gospel is that the perfect, omniscient, and all-powerful God of the universe chooses to enter into the broken mess that is humanity, and invites us to know him—to know what real life is. I’ve experienced his presence in a tangible way through God entering into my very imperfect world and working in and through the very things that I’ve long since given up on. This is the promise of Emmanuel: God with us.
The author is a recent college grad living in the Midwest as she continues to discern her future. She likes books and coffee. Outside work, you can often find her napping or reading.