For years Frederick Buechner’s quote about vocation both haunted and inspired me. You likely have heard it: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” I tried to live up to that lofty vision. I queried young adults about their “sense of call.” I agonized with them as they sought God’s plan for their lives. I put a whole shopping cart full of stock in the importance of choosing the right vocation and I resold those goods to others.
I now think I laid a heavy burden on those I encouraged to discern the intersection of their deep joy and the world’s deep need. I now recognize how rarely people have the luxury of such high-minded searching. More often than not, our deep need is to pay the rent and the means to meet that need is anything but gladness inducing.
I know too many young adults who are too doubled over with the stress of student debt to wax eloquently about how if they do what they love, the money will follow. I know too many who are too focused on delaying retirement in hopes of putting away just a little more in order to be self-sustaining just a little longer to ask what delayed dreams they plan to check off their bucket list before they kick the bucket.
Talking about “God’s call” when the bill collectors are the ones trying to get you on the line is out of touch and spiritually suspect. Linking work too closely with vocation is a heresy we mainline Protestants have been guilty of preaching. We scoff at those who proffer the prosperity gospel, but we might want to examine our own twisted theology about how we earn a living. Prosperity preachers tell their flock God will bless them with material wealth, while we tell our hearers God will imbue their work with profound meaning. Both propositions are often false. Both propositions engender guilt and shame in those whose circumstances don’t live up to the quid pro quo Bible-wrapped promises.
In a season when many in our pews are struggling, it is time to jettison the expectation that everyone gets a burning bush that points them to their dream job. It is time to relieve the pressure of not only making ends meet, but making our passion and the world’s pain meet, marry and produce a beautiful creation of joy and purpose that heals others’ wounds, too.
Work is, well, work. Often (with apologies to Brother Lawrence and Teresa of Avila) washing dishes is drudgery, especially if they aren’t our own dishes. Often my great gladness is found in utter self-indulgence. There are needs on this planet that I do not have a happy heart about relieving. Besides, doesn’t Jesus talk about crosses and sacrifice and persecution? Even Mother Teresa, come to find out, wasn’t so blissful even as she kept right on caring for the poor.
Rather than talking about “passion” and “calling” in terms of our work, we should explore the vocation that is inextricably bound to our baptism. Baptism unites us to Christ and therefore we participate in his work in the world, no matter how we spend our waking hours. In the words of the Heidelberg Confession, we become more and more dead to sin and live holy and blameless lives, no matter if we find our one true passion because abundant life has been given to us through Christ’s passion.
It would be a relief to know that we don’t have to discover our purpose, uncover God’s plan for us or find that sweet spot of gladness and need in order to be faithful and fulfilled.
I have no idea what grand, divine vocation God has predestined for me or for you or for anyone else. I do know that daily living is often difficult. I know sometimes it feels like grace when the credit card isn’t declined. I know that whatever my career or job, however I spend my waking hours, I am called, in my baptism, to seek more and more to die to sin and live a holy and blameless life. Knowing that’s enough makes me glad and may even meet a worldly need in the process.
Grace and peace,