Calling, Not Choice
What is my vocation? How do I find one? Or, as the self-help books put it, how do I find the vocation that is right for me?
Today children are asked, “What are you going to be when you grow up?” as soon as they can talk. College students are pressured into declaring a major on their application forms. Advice from books and consultants about choosing a career, going after that perfect job, and “vocational development” has become a big business in itself.
The Christian doctrine of vocation approaches these issues in a completely different way. Instead of “what job shall I choose?” the question becomes “what is God calling me to do?” Our vocation is not something we choose for ourselves. It is something to which we are called.
Instead of “what job shall I choose?” the question becomes “what is God calling me to do?”
More Than Just A Job
Our vocation is not one single occupation. As has been said, we have callings in different realms—the workplace, yes, but also the family, the society, and the church. Someone who is retired may no longer be in the workplace, but he may still pursue his callings as a grandfather, a concerned citizen, and perhaps as an elder in his church. Some people find their callings in spheres other than the workplace—a woman who refuses a job so she can devote herself to her children; the independently wealthy man who does not need to work, so he devotes himself as a citizen to philanthropy; the elderly shut-in who devotes her energy, as a Christian, to prayer.
Furthermore, a person may hold multiple vocations within each type of vocation. In the family, a woman may have a calling to be a wife, which is a task in itself, but she may also have a calling to be a mother, a vocation that involves different tasks in a different kind of relationship. She may also be a daughter to her mother, a vocation that does not end with adulthood, but only when that parent dies. She might become a grandmother to her daughter’s children. Then there is her relationship with her brothers and sisters, the whole extended family. These are all holy callings and gifts of God.
Masters and Servants
In the workplace, a mid-level executive or a shop foreman might be a “master” to those he is supervising. At the very same time, he may be a “servant” to his supervisor. Both of these relationships entail different duties and kinds of service. Even the C.E.O. of the company, the top boss, the “master” of all of his employees, very likely is also a “servant” to the Board of Directors or the stockholders.
In the social order of government, a civil official may exercise a great deal of authority, to which the rest of us citizens must submit. But then the official comes up for reelection, whereupon he has to submit to us citizens. In a democratic republic, a citizen is not only a subject but the ultimate ruler.
Different church bodies have different polities, but usually a congregation offers a wide range of opportunities for service singing in the choir, handing out bulletins, maintaining the
property, serving on committees, teaching Sunday school—which seem so small, and yet which prove to be enormous blessings to the whole community.
Another aspect of our multiple vocations is that callings change. A young man working his way through college may get a job in a fast-food restaurant. For the time being, that’s his vocation, and he is to love and serve his customers and his shift manager by flipping hamburgers. If he is fortunate enough to be going to college, he also has the vocation of being a student, which has specific obligations of its own (study!). Eventually he may get that computer degree, and he may go into his lifework. That will be his vocation then. And if his dot.com company goes bankrupt, and he goes from vast wealth back to flipping burgers, he has a new vocation.
At every stage his calling is not something that will wait until he graduates, or even until he gets that big promotion. Vocation is in the here and now. And whatever our vocation is, and in the very way it changes—whether the course of one’s lifework goes from poverty to wealth or wealth to poverty—our callings are not completely under our control; rather, they come from the Lord’s hand.
God Doesn’t Play by Our Rules
Though the world has its ways, its status games and career ladders, with good jobs and bad jobs, great wealth and the minimum wage, to the Lord all vocations are equal in status. The person blessed with wealth dare not feel superior to others or look down upon those who have less. The exalted have their own responsibilities and unique capacities for love and service to their neighbors. Those with less have their own honor from God. And sometimes He delights to have them trade places.
This article was adapted from God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life by Gene Edward Veith Jr.