If you have been reading my blog for awhile, you probably know that I seek wisdom from a number of sources. I wrote a blog on that awhile back, titled “What’s Black and White and Red All Over?” Since I’ve joined the staff at Christ United Methodist Church in Plano, Texas, I’ve learned that I had better be aware of recent columns in the New York Times written by David Brooks. Our senior pastor reads just about everything Brooks writes, including the books, and it’s good to be prepared for the discussion.
We take turns sharing devotionals in our Wednesday morning staff meetings, and I was called on to share in the last month or so. Coincidentally, Brooks had just published a column the day before, which I read, about distinguishing between vocation and a career. Brooks wrote in the context of Leadership in America, the current election, and the choices we have when we cast our vote. You can read the article here; please stick with me, though, because I’m not talking politics (not today, anyway).
As I read this column, I reflected on how the same concepts apply to each of us, as we strive to find joy in the work that we do. Let’s break down some of what Brooks shared, in this new context (pushing Brooks’ context of politics to the side for another day):
A career is something you choose; a vocation is something you are called to.
Maybe this resonated with me because of an interview I had participated in recently. As you might know, I am seeking ordination in the United Methodist Church, and on that day, I spent one hour answering questions in front of my district’s Board of Ordained Ministry – questions about my theology, doctrine, sacraments, etc. The first question we are asked is, “Tell us about your call.” We proceed to share how God called us to ordained ministry, and how we embrace that call.
The same holds true for everyone – because we are all called to a vocation and to ministry, just in different ways. Some are called to be teachers, or first responders, or a full time parent. Some are called to build houses, or buildings, or household appliances. When you find the joy of that call in your life, it is undeniable. This is what Brooks means – a vocation brings joy to your life; a career brings a job… And a call is so, so much more than a job.
A vocation involves promises to some ideal, it reveals itself in a sense of enjoyment as you undertake its tasks and it can’t be easily quit when setbacks and humiliations occur.
You know you have found your calling when you feel joy, even when there are challenges. Trust me, even in ministry, there are times when I struggle to keep my head above water. But when I am a part of something – a program, a conversation, a bible study – where someone is so obviously transformed, even for a moment….that’s a sense of overwhelming joy. Kind of like the scene from “The Incredibles”:
The careerist mentality frequently makes [us] timid, driven more by fear of failure than by any positive ideal. This timidity results in fear which plays out as self preservation, or the ambition of self over others.
Brooks also quotes the poet David Whyte: “Work, like marriage, is a place you can lose yourself more easily perhaps than finding yourself….losing all sense of our own voice, our own contributions and conversation.”
When we find that vocation or calling, and more importantly, when we respond to it – we find ourselves helping others and striving to lift up (yes, to love) others in need. Even better – we find when we help others find joy, our own joy is increased. When we love each other as Christ loves us, our fear and anxiety decrease, and we truly live into our calling – a calling so big, and so vast, that we find ourselves using our imagination – our voices – our hearts – to life others up to a better life.
Here’s the challenge: don’t be afraid to listen for the call, and to respond to it. As we read in 1 John 4:18:
Don’t stop seeking your true vocation, your call, for it will bring you unlimited joy, and with that, you will bring unlimited joy to others.