It’s a commonplace to note that in the Church nobody chooses her calling. Rather, God, through the mediation of priesthood leaders, calls us to serve, typically only for a limited time, in any of a wide variety of capacities. There is much to be said for this approach: sometimes, by doing things we never would have chosen for ourselves, we, like Moses, learn things “we never had supposed.” Having this potential for divine surprises built into the system is a good thing.
Still, this approach comes at a price: we lose the concept of vocation—the idea that God calls us individually to walk a particular path of divine service. (See Angela C’s excellent post about this.) To be sure, patriarchal blessings can provide something like an individual call, but in most cases there are not formal institutional venues for performing the things that we in the depths of our souls feel that God has called us to do. If a person in another denomination feels called to the ministry, in many cases there are formal processes of discernment and training to guide that person in working out whether this is really what God wants him or her to do. In Mormonism a person who feels so called must either wait for a formal calling or figure out some less formal way of acting as a minister. This latter option can mean “doing much good of [one’s] own accord,” but it can also lead to tensions with the institutional Church.
As we try to sort out how to act in the world according to our individualized vocations, we can look to the life of Florence Nightingale for an example. On 7 May 1837, at the age of sixteen, she experienced the first of what would be four calls to God’s service.  Like King Benjamin, she knew that serving God meant serving her fellow beings, but working out how exactly to do this took some time. She came from a very wealthy family, and, as such, her station in life was not to serve but to be served. The editor of some of her diaries observes: “In the early nineteenth century, nurses were little more than servants, often women without family [who were] notorious for sexual improprieties and their love of alcohol.”  Her eventual calling seemed profoundly at odds with her class.
Accordingly, Florence’s family (especially her mother and sister) actively resisted her efforts to act in her calling. This continued for fifteen years. At one point, in November of 1845, Florence pleaded with God to take her life:
Lord, thou knowest the creature which Thou hast made, Thou knowest that I cannot live. Forgive me, O God, and let me die, this day let me die. It is not for myself that I say this. Thou knowest that I am more afraid to die than to live for I shall carry myself with me, but I know that by living I shall only heap anxieties on other hearts, which will but increase with time.
Lord, I do not wish for another life. I believe in a future state and I thank Thee and bless Thee for it. Many of my friends will find the reconciliation to their fates in it and I embrace the idea as a support which cannot be taken away from me. But Thou, Lord, who knowest all things, I do not think that Thou wilt insist upon my taking up life again. Thou seest that I can make nothing of it.
If, as Papa says, this is vanity and selfishness, then, Lord, all is wrong and there will be nothing of me left. My inmost self is hollow. Wilt thou not, O Lord, call the spark of life back to Thyself and send it out again under a new form, for if memory is left, there will be no heaven for me if this present I is remembered in anything. O Lord, if all is vanity and selfishness, Thou seest why I cannot pray to thee, there is nothing in me to do homage to Thee, the Pure, the Perfect. Lord into thy hands I commend my spirit. It cannot even pray. 
In these years of darkness, she could echo Job’s lament—”He has put my family far from me”—but instead of indicting God she commended her spirit into God’s hands. Her act of faith was not in vain, though her difficulties would still persist for several more years. The next month she wrote:
God has something for me to do for Him or He would have let me die some time ago. I hope to do it by living, then my eyes would indeed have seen His salvation, but now I am dust and nothing, worse than nothing, a curse to myself and others.
This morning I felt as if my soul would pass away in tears, but I live in utter loneliness, in a bitter passion of tears and agony of solitude. But I live, and God grant that I may live to do this. Oh if our Saviour walked the earth, how should I not go to him, and would he send me back to live the life again which crushes me into vanity and deceit? Or would he not say, Do this. Oh, for some great thing to sweep this loathsome life into the past. 
Like Jesus, Florence did not regard the riches and privilege of her station, “but emptied [herself], taking the form of a slave.” This was the price of her calling, of her service.
In time, after an 1848 retreat in Rome, journeys to Egypt and Greece in 1848-49, and a long-desired visit to the Protestant institution for deaconesses at Kaiserswerth, Germany (near Düsseldorf), Florence was finally able to put her vocation into practice. In Rome she met Sidney Herbert, the Secretary of War who later charged her with leading nurses in the Crimean War. Her successes there led to the publication in 1859 of her influential Notes on Nursing, in which she inveighed against circumstances that prevented women from acting in keeping with their God-given potentials:
But how much more extraordinary is it that, whereas what we might call the coxcombries of education—e.g., the elements of astronomy—are now taught to every school-girl, neither mothers of families of any class, nor school-mistresses of any class, nor nurses of children, nor nurses of hospitals, are taught anything about those laws which God has assigned to the relations of our bodies with the world in which He has put them. In other words, the laws which make these bodies, into which He has put our minds, healthy or unhealthy organs of those minds, are all but unlearnt. Not but that these laws—the laws of life—are in a certain measure understood, but not even mothers think it worth their while to study them—to study how to give their children healthy existences. They call it medical or physiological knowledge, fit only for doctors. 
The error in this way of thinking lies in categorizing spiritual knowledge as scientific. For all her scientific achievement in making hospitals safer and healthier places, Florence was at heart a mystic: as evidence of her disposition, she compiled a manuscript anthology of medieval mystical writing. She did not, however, think of the mystical state as one of spiritual ecstasy, but rather as one of quiet harmony with God’s laws:
It appears to me that the mystical state is the essence of common sense if it is real, that is, if God is a reality. We can only act and speak and think through Him and the thing is to discover such laws of His as will enable us to be always acting and thinking in (conscious) co-operation with Him. Grace is a mistake because we cannot conceive that this, the very best gift we can have, can be the gift of arbitrary caprice on the part of our Almighty F[ather]. But if we find out that He gives us grace, i.e., the mystical state in accordance with certain laws we can discover and use, is not that a truth and common sense? …
The fact is, mystical books are for hard-working people to inspire their daily work, like you and me, not for mystical people, contemplative people, religious people, people in contemplative orders, idle people, excitable young ladies. 
This perspective can guide Mormons by showing that institutional venues can paradoxically detract from spiritual vocations. In this, Florence Nightingale is siding with St. Francis and St. Dominic who, around the turn of the 13th century, argued that the true apostolic way lay not in monastic life but in mendicant preaching among the people.  She is arguing that contemplative retreat from the world misses the point of Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. In a note of 2 July 1849 she reflects on how different ways of living can affect a person’s ability so recognize her neighbor:
Ought not one’s externals to be as nearly as possible an incarnation of what life really is? Life is not a green pasture and a still water, as our homes make it. Life is to some a forty days fasting, moral or physical, in the wilderness, to some it is a fainting under the carrying of the crop [cross], to some it is a crucifixion, to all a struggle for truth, for safety.
Life is seen in a much truer form in London than in the country. In an English country place everything that is painful is so carefully removed out of sight, behind those fine trees, to a village three miles off. In London, at all events if you open your eyes, you cannot help seeing in the next street that life is not as it has been made to you. You cannot get out of a carriage at a party without seeing what is in the faces making the lane on either side and without feeling tempted to rush back and say, “Those are my brothers and sisters.” 
As Latter-day Saints, whatever we feel our vocation to be, the important thing is to seek out our neighbors (in Jesus’ sense of the word) instead of acting in quiet and often unreflective ways to cut ourselves off from them. The world in its woundedness may inspire an understandable desire for retreat, but we, like Jesus, are called to incarnate ourselves in it. Thanks be to God for the example of Florence Nightingale in this regard. May we become her fellow-travelers on the path of discipleship.
The Feast of Florence Nightingale, 1910
The Collect: O God our True Physician, by the light of your Holy Spirit, and through the grace of your Son, Jesus Christ, show us the path whereby we might always be in communion with you; attune our hearts to your voice so that we may discern in our own hearts the sound of your call; and grant us the strength and vision to follow your call, that we may know how to bring your compassion and healing to the distressed of the earth. Amen.
To honor a person of spiritual power who was deeply invested in healing, what better than Nina Simone with my favorite version of “There is a Balm in Gilead”?
 From a diary entry for 7 Feb. 1892, recorded in Lynne McDonald, ed., Florence Nightingale’s Spiritual Journey, in Collected Works of Florence Nightingale, vol. 2 (Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfred Laurier University Press, 2001), 516.
 Michael D. Calabria, Florence Nightingale in Egypt and Greece: Her Diary and “Visions” (Albany: State University of New York Press), 2.
 McDonald, 366.
 Ibid., 367.
 Florence Nightingale, Notes on Nursing (London, 1859; facsimile reprint, 1946), 7.
 Lynne McDonald, ed., Florence Nightingale’s Theology: Essays, Letters and Journal Notes, in Collected Works of Florence Nightingale, vol. 3 (Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfred Laurier University Press, 2001), 232-34.
 For more on this, listen to Blair Hodges’s excellent interview with Bernard McGinn for the Maxwell Institute Podcast. The Church did, of course, eventually embrace the Franciscan and Dominican orders.
 Gérard Vallée, ed., Florence Nightingale on Mysticism and Eastern Religions, in Collected Works of Florence Nightingale, vol. 4 (Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfred Laurier University Press, 2001), 107.