The Cost of Vocation

As the summer months come to a close, students and teachers alike are gearing up to start back to school.  August is the month that I often hear colleagues and students lament that the summer just is not long enough. While professors do work over the summer, many of us get a break from the heavy teaching loads we carry during the academic year.

The start of a school year is a good time to reflect on why it is we (professors and teachers) do what we do.  For many of us, there are the logistical explanations for our career: many of us need paychecks to support ourselves and our families.  But most in this profession did not sign up because of the size of the salary, but because we believe that what we do is important. As people of faith, we often speak about the idea of vocation and calling, and for Christians in the academy, we often think of our work more as a vocation than a job.

In my last post, I wrote about some of the experiences that I had while attending CLADE V in Costa Rica.  One of them served to remind me that I chose my line of work as a way to be faithful and serve God. In speaking with a participant from Mexico about my commuting marriage (my husband, Steve, also works for a Christian institution of higher education, but in a different state), he didn’t respond as many acquaintances have in the past.  Instead of asking “Who watches your kids,” or commenting “I could NEVER do that,” he affirmed the work that both my husband and I do.  He encouraged us to be faithful.  A similar sentiment was echoed by others I met at the conference.

This stands in contrast to several other conversations I’ve had during the last year and a half, explaining to many people why my family has chosen to commute. Such a conversation often entails explaining that our jobs are more than work–they are our vocations. They are a way of living out our passions in the most faithful way we know how. A commuting marriage is one cost to what serving and following God has looked like for my family, but it’s a much smaller cost that many people confront in their choices to be faithful.

For this friend at CLADE V (and others like him), he viewed our jobs as vocations, and he believed that we were seeking to be faithful to God.  Leaving this conversation, I realized how much I appreciated this attitude.  Too often, I meet Christians where the underlying response seems to be one that I am not following the “best practices” of raising my family.  At some level, I have violated what it means to be a mother.  I have, it seems, put a mere job over a more serious call to motherhood (with all the implications that entails in evangelical settings).  Unfortunately, such an attitude greatly trivializes what it is that work represents, and also sets up false expectations for what it means to parent well.  Even worse for people of faith, it limits our ability to follow God.

As I begin to prepare lessons, engage in discussions over curriculum, mentor students around me (all while continuing my research), I am thankful for my experiences this summer with friends like those mentioned above.  They have reminded me not to put expectations on others–or myself–on what it looks like to serve God.

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  • Addae

    I appreciate this post. It is honest and thought-provoking. But let me push back a bit. I think the perspective you have is very modern, Western, and enlightenment-influenced. Your underlying assumption seems to be that you and your husband best reach your own individualistic potential by pursuing your own careers at different institutions, doing your own research, mentoring your own students, and so on. But what if this is just uncritically adopting the me-first, career-oriented ideology of the Capitalist West? I mention this as someone who comes from a more traditional, kin-oriented society (I was born in Ghana). In our culture, family life and family needs supercede “having it all” as an indvidual (e.g, a career–or a “vocation, to use your euphemism, great kids, time for leisure). And so it would be unthinkable to live in different towns than my spouse and children if I could help it. Just a view from another perspective.

    • Amy Reynolds

      Yes, I admit I do write from the perspective of a more individualistic culture. Point taken. But one might also argue it’s about following God in an individualistic culture. One of the points I was hoping to raise that this is isn’t about having it all, or pursuing individualistic dreams. This arrangement isn’t about a need to pursue our own self interests, as I sometimes think people assume. In part, it’s about us trying to follow God faithfully. While we do that in different places, it doesn’t mean we don’t do it together, and with a common vision.

      I’m also suggesting that we don’t automatically assume that being faithful means putting family first, or career first. But it does mean seriously thinking about what vocation God calls us to, and following Him even if it clashes with our society’s best practices.