Thursday, April 20, 2006

job vs. vocation

Nancy Nordenson in yesterday’s post on Just Thinking asks the question: “What do you think about how you earn your living – is it your vocation, your calling? If it’s a “job” is that okay with you?” She invites responses.

Rather than write a long comment at her place and because this is something I’ve grappled with myself, here are some thoughts.

My experience echoes Nancy’s. I began doing medical transcription the year my son began Kindergarten (1991) and continue to this day. Though at first it was exciting and challenging (my own home-based business!), it soon became just a “job.”

About ten years ago I gave a nod to my real passion – writing – by enrolling in a writing course. That activated a source of tension in my life. Necessity dictated I spend my most creative hours typing, though I wanted to be using that energy to write the stories, articles and poems which satisfied my creative itch but paid only a pittance, if at all. I’ve lived with that tension, then, these last ten years.

Lately I’ve read a book which has helped me process this reality further. Though Transforming Children Into Spiritual Champions by George Barna is written to parents of young children and church leaders to give them a perspective on discipling children, some ideas in that book have helped me to understand my own journey and given me a perspective on the future.

In Chapter 4 - “What Kids Need” - Barna addresses the issue of instilling in kids a sense of meaning and purpose in life. Some of the things I highlighted from the beginning of that chapter:

Meaning and purpose in life are gained by developing spiritual understanding....It is about knowing God so intimately that you can discern His calling upon your life. Establishing an unwavering commitment to God’s calling should trump your devotion to realizing your personal desires every time (although when you consistently live for God, His desires eventually become indistinguishable from your desires).

With that as a foundation, he goes on to give some direction on how to help children figure out God’s calling for their lives (things which I take to apply to adults too).

The first step toward knowing what that calling is, is to comprehend our life mission.

Barna suggests as a general life mission for all Christians, Jesus’ advice to the religion professors in Jerusalem: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength and all your mind and Love your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10:27.

He goes on to say:

Whereas all believers share the same mission, God gives every true disciple of Jesus Christ a unique and detailed vision. If mission is generic, vision is very personal....God calls each of us to commit to that vision – our calling – and prepares us for success in its pursuit by giving us the special combination of talents, skills, education, experiences, relationships and spiritual gifts required to bring that vision to reality.

He then discusses five aspects of how to help kids discern their specific calling or vision. I quote from the book:

1. Purpose: ...We come to discover that vision through a concerted time of intense prayer, vision-focused Bible study, situational analysis, self-awareness (with appropriate repentance, humility and self-confidence) and wise counsel.

2. Passion: One way to know if we have truly ascertained God’s vision for our lives is to evaluate our passion for that calling...it should ignite tremendous excitement and energy... (People who have found this vision) develop a sense of urgency about getting on target. In most cases once people gain clarity about the vision, they not only burn with zeal, but they also cannot imagine being devoted to anything else in life.

3. Perseverance: A mark of God’s purpose for our lives is that there is little chance of accomplishing that purpose based solely on our human capabilities....we have no choice but to rely upon Him.

4. Power: When we are devoted to serving God according to our calling and rely upon Him for guidance and capacity, we will experience the power and presence of God in our work...success only comes when we submit to His calling and allow Him to work through us, in us and around us in ways we cannot foresee or orchestrate.

5. Pleasure: People occasionally ask how we know if we have correctly understood God’s calling. One of the most recognizable means is by experiencing pleasure and joy as we engage in that calling...we will find a level of fulfillment unlike any we could otherwise experience in life.

Now, back to the subject at hand, that job, versus the vocation I dream of, the personal life vision that I have recognized from the points above. How do we reconcile the two?

My conclusion is that in my life this continues to be a developing story. I hearken back to the quote at the beginning - how our unwavering commitment to God’s calling should trump our devotion to realizing our personal desires every time.

Part of God’s calling (made abundantly clear all through Scripture) is to the duties and responsibilities of family, church and community life – looking after kids, parents, being part of a church, loving my neighbors. I believe that’s where all those years of uninspiring jobs, then mothering and medical typing fit in for me. They were the part where my commitment to God and to my duty trumped my devotion to personal desires.

However, I believe God has also led me down a path toward discovering a personal vision or calling. In my case I didn’t discover it as a youngster (although there were seeds of it then) but as an adult. Now as I grow older, my home and parenting duties lighten and I've actually given my notice for the transcription job - only three more weeks - I’m finding the time to pursue the thing that I am passionate about. I’m finding, too, that much of the drudgery of the past has prepared me for what I’m doing now, and may have prepared me for what I still want to do – those things which answer the question: If I knew I had only one, or five or ten more years to live, what would I wish I had done above everything else?

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