Five Ways to Design Your Faithful Humanitarian Life
Vocation, and really all of life is a process and not just an end point. Kent Annan and Jamie Goodwin discuss five mindsets to frame the day to day as we seek to love our neighbors.
Kent Annan and Jamie Goodwin
We’re reading Designing Your Life in a new course we created with our students called Vocation and Professional Development. The class aims to support our master’s students both with discerning next steps in their vocations and with practical matters like resume writing and interview prep.
While discussing the book, we mentioned that understood theologically, the authors’ five “mindsets” can fit well with Christian discipleship. The authors based the book on a popular class they taught at Stanford University. The book isn’t religious, but they create space for people to prioritize faith. A student asked us to further explain the ideas. So here are the five Design Your Life “mindsets” accompanied by our thoughts on how they tie into Christian discipleship, specifically in humanitarian and disaster work.
We’re also sure we’ll keep deepening, correcting, and expanding these as we learn with and from our current and future students.
First: Be Curious.
This points toward “seeking” the kingdom of God. Being curious comes with a commitment to the search, the struggle, the surprise. It requires us to develop a structure of trust that is sturdier than our circumstances. “Seek first the kingdom of God” isn’t a one-time instruction, as though if we seek it, we’ll pretty soon find it, and after that everything will be easy divine-lottery-ticket-and-life-plan-in-hand peasy. That Jesus poetically and elliptically pointed toward what the kingdom is and didn’t give an exhaustive point by point definition, hints that curiosity is essential to a life of love. Theologian Anselm of Canterbury (11th century) had as a motto “faith seeking understanding.” Likewise, vocation is a sometimes anxious and hopefully also often beautiful opportunity for you to be curious to discover how you will work and contribute your gifts in the world.
Second: Try Stuff.
We’re active as followers of Jesus, on the move and trying things along the way. Life, discipleship, research, writing—none of this is passive. We encourage volunteering, having conversations with a wide variety of professionals, networking, as well as doing lots of projects with different topics and a variety of approaches. Encourage isn’t the right word. We require. Why? Because trying many things as you learn is part of, as Buechner says in his well-known definition of vocation, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet.” Trying stuff is part of discovering both the hunger you want to serve and where and how you find gladness responding to it.
Third: Reframe Problems.
I need the renewing of my mind by the Holy Spirit, prayer, and Scripture. I need help to see problems, my own and others, in the most helpful and faithful way. I need friends, exercise, and sleep. I also need to learn new ways of seeing: through lectures, books, discussions, and research. This is true for whatever problems we’re trying to solve in the world as well as the problems of my vocation: How do I get a job that requires experience when I need a job to get experience? Will the current responsibilities of my work and family life keep me from studying and working in this field, or are these actually strengths that can bridge into what I want to do next? If you can’t find a solution to a problem, you may need to reframe the problem and take a different approach.
Fourth: Know It’s a Process.
The discipleship of our lives, as Paul says, is an ongoing race. I used to think the goal was to get to an endpoint: an accomplishment, the right job, a book published, a degree, whatever it is. These kinds of things can be important milestones, moments to be grateful and encouraged. But vocation is a process—the work of continuing to discover and tweak and adjust. It’s not about the position, but about the process—like life and discipleship, day by day seeking, making breakthroughs, making mistakes, continuing to learn. In my book Slow Kingdom Coming, one of the practices I encourage is Truthing, to continue to sharpen our understanding and to pair that with experiences on the ground. Your race is an ongoing commitment, a process, not a one-time thing.
Fifth: Ask for Help.
You don’t have to do this alone. Rather, we can do our work and be in learning communities together. We’re doing it with sisters and brothers in Christ in church, both across the street and around the world. We’re doing it with authors long dead who gifted us with their words. We’re doing it by listening to voices who have been and too often still are marginalized. We can do it in person and online. Not to say there aren’t lonely times. Of course there are, and there can be hard times of being isolated, overwhelmed, or unable to quite find the right fit. So it’s good to be reminded to ask for help. An asking-for-help spirit can help us to cultivate humility, confidence (you’re worth being helped), wisdom, and connection. Help also leads us to find solutions.
Next Steps in Designing
We offer our particular take on these five mindsets, with hope that it’s helpful with your life, your work, your following Christ, and your seeking (as we say here on The Better Samaritan) to do good better. If you’re interested in learning more about these mindsets, check out the Designing Your Life book and workbook. If you’re interested in growing in your ability to serve others well in humanitarian and/or disaster work, we’d love to walk through these ideas (and many others!) with you either online or on campus in our M.A. in Humanitarian and Disaster Leadership.
How amazing that we can be curious, try stuff, reframe problems, knowing it’s a process, and asking for help along the way—all in the context of God’s love and grace as we seek to love our neighbors.
The Better Samaritan blog is produced by the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College, which offers a M.A. in Humanitarian & Disaster Leadership and a Trauma Certificate. To learn more and apply, visit our website.
Kent Annan is director of Humanitarian and Disaster Leadership at Wheaton College, where he leads an M.A. program as part of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute. Kent has authored You Welcomed Me (2018), Slow Kingdom Coming (2016), After Shock (2011), and Following Jesus through the Eye of the Needle (2009).
Jamie Goodwin, Assistant Professor of Humanitarian and Disaster Leadership at the Humanitarian Disaster Institute, is earning a Doctor of Philosophy Philanthropic Studies from the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Her research focuses on international philanthropy and civil society, with a focus on faith-based organizations and immigrant groups.