Today’s guest post comes from Charles White, one of an excellent class of students from Bethel Seminary who recently studied the intersection between faith, vocation and work.
Inertia, the force that we first learn to associate with physical processes, is also an extremely strong force when we look at vocation. In physics it is defined as the resistance of any physical object to any change in its motion (including a change in direction). In other aspects of our lives, it is a force that predisposes us to resist change, to resist making decisions involving change, and in general, to stay where we are. In fact, this version of inertia is probably as strong or stronger than the force described in physics textbooks.
As we look at vocation and focus on what it is that we believe that God wants us to be about, one of the central questions along with who am I and what should I be doing with my life is where am I today? This starting point is the center of inertia. Are we comfortable where we are? What are the things that would influence us to change direction or to move? Why do we hesitate to make that choice of vocation?
I would suggest that there are two major factors involved. The first is comfort. If we feel fairly settled and comfortable with what we are already doing, then there is strong inertia at play. Why would we even consider something else?
The second is uncertainty. We really do not like uncertainty. The only time that we really like uncertainty is when the uncertainty centers on different positive outcomes. But if there is a negative outcome possible, our ability to make the choice to change is hindered. This is because it entails real risk. As a personal example, I had the opportunity to move twice to the Carolinas from Minnesota earlier in my career as an actuary. My wife is from there and every year after the first snowfall she asks me, why are we still here? In both cases, there was an overriding issue of medical coverage since my wife was pregnant and she had a pre-existing medical condition in addition to her pregnancy that was considered high-risk both times. Both of these times predate later law changes that would have eliminated this as an issue. At the end of the day, we decided to stay rather than take the risk that there would be problems and no health insurance coverage for them.
So, as we look at vocation, what things can we do to eliminate or at least minimize the effects of inertia in both our discernment of vocation and our decision-making process where we move from discernment to action? First, we need to focus on what it is that we understand God wants us to do which means that we may need to try to set aside where we are at right now as a consideration. Obviously, where we are at is a real place and time and cannot be totally ignored, but it can be set aside in the first stages of discernment.
Second, we need to understand that nothing in life is without risk. Even stepping outside of the place where we live entails risk – risk of falling, risk of colliding with someone or something. When we can understand that, then it allows us to move forward with a better understanding of how we deal with risk and what may be tradeoffs between our current situation and a new direction.
Finally, we need to trust God, and in that act, follow where he leads. Faith is a powerful word and requires action on our part.