Calling or Career?
We’ve heard it before when it comes to work: You know you’ve found the right job when every first and fifteenth of the month you feel like you’re robbing the bank.
It’s the old “do what you love” approach, and don’t get me wrong, I think this is the ideal, but for most people this doesn’t play out as neatly as we would imagine. Many are dissatisfied with their jobs, feeling stuck in a vocation that they just can’t seem to get out of, and I’m not talking about someone doing manual labor either. Tim Keller, in his book, Counterfeit Gods, points out that there is a growing rate of job frustration among many in the finance industry who ironically got into the field because of the money, only to have made plenty of it, but feel completely empty. It seems as if both the guy building the skyscraper, and the one sitting inside it are unhappy with what they do. So let’s agree that one’s vocation has nothing to do with the amount of income one accrues annually.
Vocation is from the Latin vocatio, which means calling. At its core, work is a calling, designed by God to fulfill a purpose that is outside of oneself, a purpose that brings glory to God and blesses others. We were created to work. Before Adam gets a spouse, God hands him a vocation, a calling. He was to use his efforts as a gardener to create beauty and to satisfy God. Adam’s calling had nothing to do with preaching, or serving on some third world mission field. His pulpit was a garden, and his microphone a set of hedge clippers (I know they didn’t have those then, just flow with me).
Yet Adam’s calling was every bit as important as King David’s and the prophet Jeremiah. Jesus came to earth as a carpenter. Paul preached and made tents, and both labors brought glory to God, and good to humanity. Sure Moses spent forty years in what some would call “vocational ministry” as he lead the people of God from bondage in Israel to freedom (literally “calling service,” go figure), but a robust theology of calling would lead one to conclude that the previous forty years he spent tending sheep in Midian were just as important in the eyes of God.
Seen in this light, a calling that brightens the eyes of God doesn’t necessitate one quitting their job as a barista at some coffee company and running to seminary to get trained for “real work.” Instead, we need to ask how can we redeem our labors behind the cash register.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. alluded to this when he said, "If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, 'Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.'"
So redeeming our work demands that we see our jobs as vocations in the truest sense of the term. But there’s more, for our jobs to be satisfying, we must labor out of a sense of communion with the Great Satisfier. Some how, some way, I must connect what I do in my cubicle, on the sales call, or in surgery with the eternal. I once heard a stay at home mom describe her “job” as advancing the kingdom of God by investing in the next generation of Christ followers. It is this perspective that allows her to navigate the monotony of changing diapers and calming screaming babies.
Solomon knew both the despair of work segregated from the eternal, and the joy of a vocation inseparably linked to God. Read the book of Ecclesiastes. One psychologist suggested that if she had a patient sit on her sofa and say what Solomon said in this book, she would immediately diagnose him with clinical depression. And yet the sheer irony of it all is that this man had billions of dollars, and had achieved massive success in the world’s eyes, namely building one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Yet over and over again in the book of Ecclesiastes he reflects on his labors and exhales that all is vanity, or emptiness, a striving after the wind. Solomon joins the chorus of many in our finance and medical professions today who have it all yet nothing at once.
But the real gem of Ecclesiastes is in its closing verses. Solomon concludes that life is only fulfilling when we fear God and keep his commandments. Work only becomes a satisfying vocation when God is in the middle of the planning, strategizing, meeting and doing.
So the key question I must ask when I am trying to transform my job into a vocation is does it satisfy God and benefit others? This is an un-American perspective. Our individualized society has taught us to ask first, will this job satisfy me? But this is not how the bible postures calling. A vocation only happens when God is pleased, and humanity is bettered. When the latter happens I can rest easy at night, no matter what the days activity held, because I’ve done what God created me to do.