Do you want a job or a vocation?
Credit: ISTOCK (SKYNESHER)
Opinion: Answering your calling can make a job a vocation.
An example: A friend of mine has a social work degree. She has two jobs, one supervising youth in custody, the other staffing a house in which a long-term mental health patient lives. Her social work career will likely involve other jobs as time goes on.
And you can have a job without a career. Many people serve in restaurants. Some people love the work and make a career of it. But others see it as a short-term way to make money, while going to college, let’s say.
There is another way of thinking about work. And that is as a vocation. The idea is that a vocation is something of a higher calling. Google’s dictionary says this:
Vocation is defined as a call to do something, especially regarding religious work. [A] woman’s desire to become a nun is an example of vocation. Vocation means one’s calling or profession. The hard work done by a charity worker accepting little or no money is an example of a vocation.
Here, vocation applies more to a religiously motivated long-term work. Or, it can mean a type of work that does not pay but is a way of serving other people. In any case, according to this way of thinking, the idea of vocation applies to only a few people.
However, I think a different understanding can be considered. You might notice that the word, vocation, is related to the words, voice and vocal. Interestingly, the idea of being “called” implies that someone or something is doing the calling.
But who or what might that be?
Some people say that “the universe” is calling them to do something. There might be something there, but it is difficult to stay with this notion because the universe, as a kind of general non-personal concept, doesn’t really do any calling. Maybe then, the true sense of calling comes from within a person, or from strong encouragement of other people, or from the observation of a great need, such as the need of the very poor to rise above their situation.
The strongest meaning of the word, vocation, though, comes from a different place, from Christianity.
Belmont Abbey is a Benedictine Monastery in the U.K. A monastery is a place in which a number of monks live in community. Typically, they will have dedicated themselves to a life of prayer, modest means (sometimes poverty), doing good works for others in their communities, and singleness and chastity. They believe that God has called them to this way of life and they are responding to that call. A vocation.
Monasteries have been around since the middle of the 300s A.D. According to Wikipedia, a man named St. Athanasius established the first in Bulgaria. They spread wherever Christianity took root.
In Ireland some monks would live in beehive shaped structures three or four meters high made of shale or other stone. You can still see them. Monasteries became centers of learning. They are sometimes credited with saving European civilization because they collected Christian and non-Christian texts, made copies by hand, and created libraries.
For over a thousand years many people believed that a monk was someone especially called by God. However, in the 1500s there was a revival of Bible reading. This period of Western European history is called the Reformation.
Church leaders and ordinary Christians noted that in the Bible, monks are not mentioned. That wasn’t a terribly serious objection to monks. But one criticism did go deep. Readers began to get the idea that it was not only people who dedicated themselves to prayer and charity who had a vocation, a calling from God. They believed that God had a place for all kinds of skills, trades and professions.
God might be calling one person to a life of prayer, but he might be calling other people to become carpenters, stone masons, mothers, fathers, church leaders, missionaries, chefs, librarians, doctors, traveling merchants and artists. If there had been truckers and IT specialists in the 1500s, they would have been included.
So, as some historians put it, the sense of God’s calling moved outside the monastery into the wider community. A woman’s childrearing was just as holy as a priest’s prayers, and a banker’s money lending just as sacred as a missionary’s travels.
Back to the Belmont monks: According to the Belmont website, if you are thinking about becoming a monk, you must discern if God is calling you to do that.
Discernment begins in prayer, where we open ourselves to the guidance of the Holy Spirit as we try to understand what God really desires.... Ultimately, we pray with Christ those simple words as he sought to do the will of his Father in heaven: “Your will be done.”
I don’t disagree in the least with the Benedictine encouragement to pray for God’s guidance when discerning whether or not to become a monk. But I would say that whatever we are considering, praying for the guidance of God can bring us to the path we should take. On that path, a job is more than a job, a career is more than a career, and an amateur skill is more than a hobby.
That will be a great help as you pick your way through life. If you sense that God has called you to be a parent, garbage truck operator, baker, or stockbroker, you are more likely to work diligently and conscientiously. You will have more reason to persevere through the tough months, and to enjoy the good ones.