Paula Faris on Finding Life's True Calling and the Unexpected Gift She Received From Her Late Father

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Paula Faris always felt especially close to her father Ed, so when his health deteriorated over several months following a major stroke in 2018, she knew she would have to deal with the pain of saying good-bye. But in the aftermath of his death in early 2019, Paula discovered that her dad had left her a gift, beyond the legacy of love he had modeled throughout her life. It was a gift that no one knew existed, and it found Paula at just the time in her life when she needed it most.

In 2018 – after enduring a “season of hell” that included a miscarriage, a concussion, a head-on car crash, and pneumonia (read the full story here) – Paula stepped back from her two time-consuming jobs at ABC News: co-anchoring “GMA Weekend” and co-hosting “The View.” Though she remained at the network as Senior National Correspondent and creator of the podcast “Journeys of Faith,” she still felt “lost” because so much of her identity had been tied up in her high profile job titles and addictive pursuit of career accomplishments.

But Paula knew that God was sending her the message to slow down so she could focus more on her husband, children, and faith. She allowed God to lead and guide her not only to a new sense of “calling,” but a broader definition of the word. Interestingly, it was a struggle that echoed her father’s experiences.

After his death, Paula discovered that her father used to keep journals in which he reflected on his life. They had been stashed in old boxes, and Paula’s mom didn’t even know about them.

Ed wrote about growing up in a Lebanese Catholic family, but never experiencing a real relationship with God. He struggled to find peace in his heart and soul, searching for it through alcohol, valium, transcendental meditation, and – like Paula – in career advancement. But nothing worked.

It wasn’t until Ed was in his 40s and already married with three children that he joined the Morningstar Christian Community, an ecumenical group born out of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement in Jackson, Michigan. That is the place where God became an active presence in Ed’s life, helping to save his marriage, which was floundering, and giving him a deeper love and appreciation for his family. Paula was born in the aftermath of this spiritual awakening when Ed found his peace in God.

During a “Christopher Closeup” interview about her new book “Called Out: Why I Traded Two Dream Jobs For a Life of True Calling” (podcasts below), Paula said, “I think [my dad] left those journals for me to find, being the nosy person I am. I dedicate the book to him, and I hope people can find themselves not just in my story, but my father’s story, too…My dad was a brilliant man, an engineer. He had multiple opportunities to move up the corporate ladder, but he didn’t [take them] because he wanted to be home with his family. He knew what was important to him, and he made certain sacrifices for our family so that he could be there.”

On the Saturday before he passed away, that choice was again proven to be the right one. Lying in his hospital bed, Paula saw that her dad was crying. She asked if it was because he was in pain. Unable to speak, he shook his head, “No.”

“Are you crying because you’re sad?” Paula asked.

Again, he indicated, “No.”

Then, as if reading his mind, Paula asked, “Are you crying because you’re overwhelmed by the love and the memories and the life that you lived and the people you’re surrounded with?”

Ed nodded, “Yes.”

For Paula, this was a final recognition of the joy her father derived from prioritizing his family over his career. It was also a reassurance that she, too, had made the right decision in finding a better work-life balance. And as heartbreaking as it was for Paula to lose her father, her Christian faith gives her reassurance that this separation is temporary, not final. She says, “When you lose a parent, it’s like your tectonic plates shift. It’s so foundational. I can’t imagine saying goodbye and not having the peace that I’m going to see him again. Dad, I love you, and we’re going to be together forever.”

We Each Have Two Callings

Though her father’s death brought more clarity to Paula’s identity crisis, she had been struggling with it for more than a year at that point. It’s a struggle that each of us can go through, so the stories and insights she shares in “Called Out” are applicable to anyone.

Paula said, “It’s a book about…who we are outside of what we do, and it’s about buying this lie from society that our only worth is our work, and that our value is our vocation, that our calling is our career…One of the first questions you ask somebody is, ‘What do you do for a living?’ Even subconsciously, we’re projecting this narrative that you’re only as good as your job…And I leaned into all of that because I thought that was my calling. And I burned out.”

One of the problems in Christian circles, Paula believes, is that priests and pastors and public speakers often use the word “calling” without actually defining it. The suggestion is that “calling” is synonymous with career, an idea Paula bought into. Now, she believes differently.

“I learned that we have two callings,” she explained. “We have a faith calling, or purpose – and we have a vocational calling. [My] faith calling is singular: to love God and love people. That’s never going to change. That is my purpose on this earth…My vocational calling IS going to change, but my vocation is just the conduit by which I’ll fulfill my purpose to love God and love people. When I understood that for honestly the very first time, it changed everything for me. What I do doesn’t define me. What I do isn’t who I am. [Give] yourself the permission to allow your vocation to change…[or] to branch out.”

Paula notes that the term “vocation” doesn’t just apply to women in the workforce, but parents who choose to stay home to raise their children: “You see the statistics where, I think, 40 percent of career women are off-ramping to stay at home. So vocation is seasonal. I can take a a season and raise my kids and that is a full-blown vocation…This is your vehicle by which you’re loving your children, loving God and loving people…And can I say I hate the term ‘stay-at-home mom.’ For most moms that have either paused their career or decided not to go that route, there’s no staying. They’re running. We should call them ‘running-around moms.’ Unfortunately, society…[asks] stay-at-home moms, ‘What did you do before you did this?’ As if they need some sort of validation, which is just a lie…[Motherhood] is the greatest vocation that you can be called to.”

Journeys of Faith’ Explores Intersection of Faith and Politics

Paula feels that part of her vocational calling in this season of life is hosting the podcast “Journeys of Faith” for ABC News, on which she interviews prominent people about their spiritual beliefs. With the recently-launched third season, she explains, “We wanted to pivot into the murky waters of politics and faith…We wanted to look…at these politicians in a different light. They’re out there giving their stump speeches and their reused soundbites and we wanted to peel back the layers and give them an opportunity to talk about their faith. We’re talking to Republicans, to Democrats about faith and how it influences who they are and their policies.”

Guests this season include Senators Ted Cruz and Cory Booker, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, and former presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard. Paula does an excellent job drawing out the person behind the persona in this format, which allows guests to speak at length about a subject they rarely get the opportunity to discuss. She also makes sure that her approach to asking questions is bipartisan and even-handed.

Paula says, “The definition of a journalist is to be objective, to be neutral. I don’t want somebody to look at me and say, ‘She’s Republican or she’s Democrat.’ I think the challenge right now…is we have pundits, we have commentary, and we have journalists. And they’re all in the same pool…It’s confusing for the general public because they see someone delivering commentary and they see a pundit and then they see a journalist – and it’s hard for them to distinguish…I feel like I have a great responsibility to be more objective now than I ever have been. I don’t want to be the story; I want to be able to tell the story. It’s a cognizant decision before I’m asking a question…to make sure, is this what people want to know but also am I asking this in a very neutral manner.”

Hosting “Journeys of Faith” has also been an education for Paula because of her guests’ varied spiritual backgrounds. Having attended a small Christian college where she earned a Bible Minor, she thought she was well-versed in world religions. But the podcast taught her how much she didn’t know.

She observes, “I think if Americans would take the time to show up as our true selves – whether you’re Jewish, Sikh, Christian, Buddhist, or Muslim – if we show up as our true selves to work and in our circles, and we start having…conversations about what’s important to your culture and tradition and your religion, I think we could start to break down so many of these barriers of naivete and ignorance that are consuming our society.”

Being exposed to different belief systems has also led Paula to learn more about her own. She notes that living in an echo chamber where we only interact with like-minded people can be detrimental because we’re never challenged to explore our faith more deeply: “I think no matter what faith you are, you need to know what you believe and why you believe it. You should be able to dig into it and ask questions. Don’t just believe it because that’s how you were raised and your parents taught you. But really question, ‘Why do I believe this? What do I believe?’ If anything, I feel like my faith has only grown and deepened since I embarked on this journey of faith.”

Full Circle

In memory of their father, Paula and her three siblings embarked on a different journey last summer, traveling to Ed’s ancestral homeland of Lebanon, where they still have a lot of family. Specifically, they visited the small mountain village outside of Beirut where her grandparents had once lived.

When Ed’s father immigrated to the United States many years ago, he brought with him a clipping from the grape arbor on his family’s land in Lebanon, and he used it to grow his own here. As an adult, Ed took a clipping from his father’s grape arbor and grew his own, meticulously caring for it throughout his life as a way to stay connected to his roots.

To create a full circle moment, the Faris siblings came up with an idea. Paula recalls, “We took the clipping of the grape arbor from [our dad’s] backyard, which was clipped from his dad, which was clipped from Lebanon. And we went to the mountain village where my [grandparents] were born and raised and where my dad spent so much time. We went to a hill right where the church was that our family was so involved in, they’re Maronite Catholics. And we four kids, we had a ceremony. We each said something to my father. We buried that clipping in the earth there…We were all weeping and in tears, but we felt this almost indescribable connection with our father and an indescribable peace. And we completely felt his presence there…What a beautiful tribute to my father, but what a beautiful legacy he left behind. Even in his passing, what was so important to him was his family. We got together to honor my father and go back to the homeland. And then we feel this deeper connection than we’ve ever felt before…I felt like this was when we really got true closure with our father.”

(To listen to my full interview with Paula Faris, click on the podcast links below):

Paula Faris interview, part 1 – Christopher Closeup

Paula Faris interview, part 2 – Christopher Closeup

(To pre-order Paula’s book “Called Out: Why I Traded Two Dream Jobs For a Life of True Calling,” click here.)