Frederich Buechner is a novelist and writer that I really appreciate, but his definition of vocation is causing confusion. He said that your vocation is “the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” Great words with some good applications, but to say this describes vocation contributes to the notion that vocation is something special, tied to self-fulfillment, and something better than ordinary “jobs.”
So now Jo Swinney, thinking of that definition, says, writing for Christian Today (a British site not to be confused with Christianity Today), that “the idea of vocation can be deeply problematic.”
Anyone, of any tradition, who writes about vocation needs to start with the great theologian of vocation: Martin Luther. According to him, vocation is God’s calling to love and serve our neighbors in the tasks and relationships that He gives us. Also, our “jobs” are only one facet of our vocations and probably not the most important: we also have callings in the family, the church, and the society. And our vocations are not just where we find our fulfillment but also where we bear our crosses.
Read the criticisms of vocation after the jump, and then read my further thoughts on the matter.
From Jo Swinney, Why We Shouldn’t Be Searching For Our Vocation | Christian News on Christian Today [I list her reasons, but be sure to go to the links to read her explanations.]
Work dominates adult life, with most of us spending more than 92,000 hours at our place of employment. So it’s not surprising that we aspire for work that has more meaning than just allowing us to pay the bills. What we hope to find is not a job, but a vocation – what the American author Frederick Buechner defines as “the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need”. In his book, Let your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, the writer, teacher and activist Parker Palmer urges us to first discover who we are, and let that then shape what we do: “The deepest vocational question is not, ‘What ought I to do with my life?’ It is the more elemental and demanding ‘Who am I? What is my nature?'”.
Christians often ask other questions, along the lines of ‘What is God’s plan for my life? What is my calling and purpose?’ fully expecting divine career guidance.
But I’ve come to believe that the idea of vocation can be deeply problematic. Here’s why:
1. Chasing a vocation is a luxury only afforded to the most privileged on the planet. . . .
2. The idea of vocation can lead to dissatisfaction for those who are doing ‘just a job’. . . .
3. We are not what we do. . . .
4. There is more to life than work. . . .
5. There is value and worth in all work done for the glory of God
So, in terms of Luther’s Biblical doctrine of vocation, in answer to her questions, yes, the Kenyan construction worker and the Bangladeshi woman sewing buttons have vocations. (Vocation honors labor that the world looks down upon.) Yes, being a wife, mother, sister, etc., is just as important as getting paid for a job–indeed, more important, the family callings being the most fundamental.
What defines vocation are the neighbors God gives us to love and serve.