V is for Vocation

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If V is for Vocation, then F is for Fineprint. Let me get the disclaimers out of the way: I hold two graduate degrees, and earn exactly zero dollars a month. I am a full-time Mom: a packer of dishwashers and kisser of boo-boos and driver of carpools; roles I never imagined myself in and do not consider myself particularly gifted at or fulfilled by. So what on earth was I thinking when I volunteered to write about calling and vocation?

I had noble intentions of summoning my years in College Ministry: time spent with students talking about how their majors—from entomology to economics—reflected some part of God’s good world, and how their joyful service in those made a difference. Part discipleship, part career counseling—these were conversations I excelled in: hour-long vocational pep talks over countless cardboard cups of coffee in the Student Union.

My plan was to do a little reading: brush up on Beuchner’s definition of how we find our vocation where our deep gladness and the world’s deep need meet, spend some time mulling over brilliant Venn diagrams depicting the intersections between what the world will pay for, what we love, what we do well and what is needed . . .  and after all this, I would write a charming, peppy, insightful piece calling us all to a deeper self-awareness, and Christlike purpose.

This was the plan, and one I was ready to execute but for this one blindsiding problem: the glaring vocational question marks raised by my own life. For I spend my days doing something the world doesn’t pay for, engaged in tasks I don’t love and really don’t do particularly well (walking Pinterest-fail that I am), and while I concede that the “world needs committed parents,” my contribution to meeting the world’s needs through my daily ministrations at the sink feels pitifully small.

It makes me think that conversations about vocation, as I usually hear them phrased, smack of privilege. That we can choose our jobs: to do one thing rather than the other in order to “optimize our lives” is a luxury few have. In centuries past, work had more to do with contributing to the family trade and the survival of the household than with individual gifts and specific talents. In the current day, with nearly 30 million people still living in slavery, and billions more working at whatever job they can find just to put food on the table, to talk about finding our vocation feels profoundly privileged indeed.

The word “vocation” comes from the Latin vocare, meaning “to call.” I stand over the dishwasher, stacking plastic bowls in all the colors of the rainbow, and I wonder: “Jesus, what are you calling me to do?” For finding my vocation, whatever that is, is surely tied to Jesus’ ultimate call on my life. And, whatever we say about vocation, if we are going to identify it as an aspect of faithful discipleship, it needs to be something as true in Darfur as it is in Denver.

These more fundamental questions: “Why am I here? And what does God want from me?” are easier to face if I remove the heavy mantle of career-planning from them. For what he wants from me is Christlikeness: my calling, ultimately, is to follow him. My vocation, as a daughter adopted into his family and entrusted with a stake in the family business and reputation, is to represent and establish his Kingdom in whatever sphere he puts me. My calling is one of daughter. My vocation is one as Kingdom Agent.

“It’s not what we do, it’s how we do it,” our leaders tell us. If we serve, let us do so willingly. If we speak, let us speak faithfully. God help me, if I must drive a mini-van, let me do so responsibly and cheerfully. Apparently, God likes adverbs. The Spirit himself calls us to walk gently, joyfully, kindly, faithfully, and with self-control. These things are the calling of every believer, whether we manage homework schedules or hedge funds.

However, if we are in that rare and privileged position where a choice between homework and hedge funds is a real possibility, then I remember his words that much is required from those to whom much has been given. And so, given the luxury of choosing a college, or a major, or this job rather than that one, we feel the weight of the mantle on our shoulders: for God cares very much that all his Kingdom Agents bear the family name well in his world. His reputation is at stake, and he asks us for faithfulness with whatever talents he has given us.

But just before I am ready to throw in my grubby kitchen towel in frustration at the theological circularity of it all, I remember this: He has not left us alone in the world. Jesus has sent his Spirit: the one who guides, leads, the ultimate Counselor. Finding my calling can never be done by simply taking an inventory of my talents and resources. It’s more personal than that. What I need, right then in front of the dishwasher, is what I needed that first day I needed to declare a major in college: the staying presence of the Holy Spirit of Christ. Perhaps he was calling me to faithful study of political discourse at that time. And perhaps he is calling me to disciple my three mini-me’s right now. Perhaps my assignment will change, but this does not mean I was—or am—without vocation.

For vocation, in the end, is about heeding the Caller, not the calling.

Bronwyn Lea

Writer at Bronwyn Lea
Bronwyn Lea is a South-African born writer, speaker and, lately, a mom and professional mini-van driver. She’s a social kinda gal: find her on Facebook and Twitter and say hi.

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  • Bronwyn, I love everything about this post and you sum it all up so well with your last sentence, “For vocation, in the end, is about heeding the Caller, not the calling.” No matter where we are, whatever we do, our job is to do the best we can realizing that we are not alone. Whatever our call, Jesus has sent the Holy Spirit to be with us through it all. Maybe our “vocations” change in different stages of our lives, but our calling is really “heeding the caller” in every stage. Thank you for your insightful words today! Blessings to you.

    • I am SO grateful we are not alone. Thank you for your kind words.

  • Did any of us ever think that we would be doing this full-time mothering gig? I surely didn’t, but 22 years into it, I’m still not ready to say I’m done (tho’ some days I’m close to saying “uncle”).

    Bronwyn, you have a gift for saying what needs to be said about a thing.

    • Thank you Michele. You have a gift for encouraging with such timely and personal words!

  • Jean

    Working mom…in a stable position…but not an inspiring one. Feeling guilty for not ‘living up to my potential’ – feeling guilty about not being able to stay home with my son…(and limited means for additional children) and in the meantime…just trying to be faithful and pay the bills (including student loans for that graduate degree and paying off my minivan). Very timely thoughts…including the inherent privilege associated with the word ‘vocation’ – most of us work how we have to work in order to get by. It is the way of things. But even in these mundane tasks – the commute, the paperwork, the politics…the nature of our work does not hamper the nature of God’s work.

    • I love this: “The nature of our work does not hamper the nature of God’s work”. Your work matters, my work matters. Somehow, He uses it all.

  • The words of the morning prayer in the book of common prayer comforts me: “and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose.” ALL. Lovely words, Bronwyn.

    • Thank you my friend. I so very much love the BCP. It has given me words to pray when I felt wordless time after time.

  • Sarah Van Benschoten

    I gotta say… I too was hoping for your originally intended post Bronwyn. 😉 Though your conclusions are full of truth to reflect on, they are not what I wanted to hear right now. This is such a timely topic as I attended a workshop just last night attempting to explore and discover my ultimate career calling and I have been chasing links relating to “vocation” and “calling” all week. I am only one year into this new stay-at-home mom gig and already I am reconsidering our plans for how many children we want, how closely to space them, as well as our decision for me to stay home with the children till they’re grown.

    How quickly the tables have turned. It was not long ago that I had strong feelings of jealousy and resentment towards moms who had the choice to stay home, believing that it would never be a choice I would have. But by God’s incredible mercy and grace, it is now more than an option for me, it is my reality. However it has turned into a bittersweet reality. I love Abigail so much and value that she is protected and thriving in my care nearly all of the time, but I miss being a part of the world so strongly, that I feel overwhelmed by my boredom, lack of usefulness, and left longing for my former aspirations of influence, excellence, and connectedness.

    I feel burnt out and the thought of adding more children to the mix feels like prolonging this very lonely and trying season of life. It has made me ineffective, depressed, and sullen and I just feel stuck. Internally I wrestle with my desire to love my family and care for them as I feel they ought to be cared for and my desire to pursue my potential as an individual child of God who has God-given gifts that long to be exercised.

    I long for so much more than home life; and I feel endlessly guilty for it and hopeless that a balanced solution could be found. I would love to hear about how you came to terms with your new reality as a mom and if you ever second guessed leaving your degrees and influence behind for roles you mention you don’t feel particularly gifted at or fulfilled by. I feel as though I am being asked to grieve a great loss and quite frankly, my current response is: “I don’t want to.” 🙁

    • Sarah – this is the truth. The first year of motherhood was possibly the loneliest and hardest of my life: the intensity of feeling like I needed to be *there* all the time for my daughter, but being simultaneously so bored and feeling so useless… especially after a career where I had a lot of encouragement that my efforts were making a difference and that there was some correlation between my gifting and my activities. It got better. And strangely enough, having more kids – while prolonging the stage of early kids – did relieve some of the terrible boredom of wondering how I was going to fill *YET ANOTHER DAY* with this tiny person. So hard. I will pray for you this week, my friend. It does get better, and God will FOR SURE use this season redemptively in your life… even if its not clear how yet. He wastes nothing. Before you know it, you’ll be encouraging an exhausted young mom and saying “yes, yes. I remember. It was so hard. Me too.” and your having BEEN THERE and come through on the other side will make the world of difference to a capable young mom who wonders if she’s losing her mind….

      • Sarah Van Benschoten

        Thank you Bronwyn. Your words and encouragement certainly lessen my internal judgements about what I have been going through and hopefully will help me reevaluate my expectations for this season of life. I know everyone says motherhood changes you, but I truly had no idea what that meant till this past year and I’m not sure I like the changes in me so far. But perhaps, in time, I will not feel so intensly needed every second of every day and I will feel enough freedom to remember who I am outside of being a mother. I am thankful to hear from you and others that things will get better. I will just trust that for now. Thank you for your prayers, they are really appreciated!