Friday, July 3, 2009

Doing gladness: Matching giftings to need

Here is a short excerpt from an interview with Frederick Buechner clarifying a quote attributed to him: "Vocation happens when our deep gladness meets the world's deep need."

Q: You wrote a famous line about one's own deep gladness and the world's deep need. What is your advice to a young person trying to find out what to do in life, trying to figure out a vocation?

A: I never got my own quotation quite straight. There was a little piece I once read on vocation or all these "voices" -- "vocare," to call, "vocation," calling you to be this or to be that. Which one do you answer? I said the vocation for you is the one in which your deep gladness and the world's deep need meet. When you are doing what you are happiest doing, it must also be something that not only makes you happy but that the world needs to have done. In other words, if what makes you happy is going out and living it up and spending all your money on wine, women, and song, the world doesn't need that. But on the other hand, if you give your life to good works -- you go and work in a leper colony and it doesn't make you happy -- the chances are you're not doing it very well. Those for whom you were doing it will recognize that this is not an act of love. It's a good work and they are the object of it. Just the other day somebody my age in some sort of a crisis said, "I don't feel I'm being what I ought to be." And I said, "What makes you happiest? That's the clue." It struck him dumb. He said, "I never thought that. What makes me happy?" I think he was thinking, what makes me useful? What makes me religious? No, no, no. What makes you, in the deepest sense of the word, happy? That's what you should be doing, if the other part is also met -- if it is something the world needs.

Q: What is that for you? Preaching or writing?

Well, writing. I don't make a distinction really. Preaching and writing -- it's the same. Whether I'm writing to speak or writing to be read in a book, it's the same thing. Yes, it's what makes me happiest. One can only hope that the world needs me to do it. I've never been a great best-seller, so it's not as if millions of people have taken heart from what I've written. But I get enough letters, after all these books I've written over all these years, from people saying, in one sense or another, "You saved my life" that I have to take them seriously, always with tremendous embarrassment. I don't know how to save my own life, so anything they've found in what I've written that saved theirs -- I can't take responsibility for it. But something that's touched me, and through me them, has saved their life. That's something I love more than anything else to do. I mean, the world needs people who save lives.

You can read the entire interview at

Click here to find Frederick Buechner's books at


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