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.