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Leaving a vocation

Leaving a vocation March 8, 2013

In yesterday’s post about some cardinals complaining about Pope Benedict XVI leaving his calling, I asked about when it’s permissible to leave one’s vocation.  We didn’t really talk about that much, but I think it deserves consideration.  Set aside the question of the pope and let’s discuss this as it relates to the various vocations that Christians hold.  At what point should we leave a vocation for another one, and how do we know that we should do that?  First, let me give some preliminary thoughts.It has often been said–by Luther, among others–that we should stay in our vocations, that the devil wants to get us out of the assignment where God has placed us.  At the same time, it is evident that vocations change.  A person is born into a family and has the calling of being a child to his parents.  Then the child grows up, leaves home, and enters into the vocation of marriage.  Later, a new vocation is added:  that of parent.  In the meantime, that person may have held many different jobs to make a living for his family, each of which was a vocation for awhile.  That person may also have been a citizen of a number of different communities or even nations.

It seems that some vocations are permanent or are meant to be permanent:  The Baptismal calling to be a Christian.  Parenthood.  Marriage.

Other callings change, as the Christian is called to new avenues of service. This is sometimes a natural progression (going from student into the workplace; marriage leading to parenthood).  Sometimes it is not voluntary (getting fired or laid off; taking the only job one can find).  Sometimes this involves making a decision.

We probably shouldn’t  over-spiritualize some of these changes, as if vocations are some special revelation, rather than ordinary workings of the world.  But it does seem that we should not abandon a calling lightly.  Merely having problems in a calling is not a reason to leave it behind, since we are to bear our crosses in our vocations.  (This applies to marriage but also, I would think, vocations in the workplace.)  And yet, doors slamming in our face and opening elsewhere may indicate a new calling (though not to permanent callings, such as marriage).  How do we know when it’s the right time to leave?

One factor in leaving a calling might be the claims of our other callings.  A new job offer with a higher salary may help a person better fulfill his calling to take care of the needs of his family.  If a husband’s wife is miserable living in one community, it might be an act of love and service to her to move to a new one.

I suppose that since the purpose of all vocations is to love and serve one’s neighbor, the urgency of a neighbor’s need, or the prospect of greater spheres of service, or the pull of love, should be factors.

I’m curious about how some of you have handled these issues.   How have you pastors wrestled with the question of (1) being called into the ministry from some other calling, and  (2) deciding whether to take a new call to a different congregation?

How have those of you in other professions decided whether to stay where you are or move on to a new position?

Do any of you pastors and laypeople see all opportunities as coming from God’s hand?

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