One keeps you busy, and one is a calling

Career Day at Lakewood Elementary earlier this year brought doctors, engineers, firefighters, businesspeople and at least one Baptist pastor to the school.

Teacher Lisa Harris-Jones invited me to her class. I got to talk about what I do and why I do it to kids who might not otherwise wonder their way into my work.

A week or so later, I received a manila envelope with thank-you notes from the kids. Love that. Many drew pictures to add to their words. Their thanks were sprinkled (not immersed) — one was even glittered — with echoes of what I told them.

Most Career Day speakers came with props from their job. I chose a Bible and clerical stole (even though Baptist pastors don’t usually robe). I got to tell them about the things pastors/priests do. We work for God in and through the church. We marry people, bury people, baptize people and generally help people.

We’re in the people business.

We do a lot of talking — sermons, of course; teaching, too; and counseling with people who are in crisis or looking for spiritual direction. We talk about God mostly. We tell God’s story and how we each of us can find our place in it. The Bible is a meeting place where we can hear from God and from other people who lived a long time ago and who also heard from God about what to do with their lives.

Which leads back to career.

The word vocation comes from the Latin vocare, which means to call. It implies a caller. The caller could be your mother who wants you to do this or that so that she can say her son or daughter does this or that. The caller could be Mammon — the lure of making a lot of money. If it’s a spiritual vocation, the caller will be God.

You can do a job and be occupied with your work. We call that an occupation. But if you have the sense that you are not so much choosing to do a certain kind of work but instead being chosen to do it, then the work that you do is a vocation more than just occupation. To be called feels like something you can’t not do. You are summoned. You are answering a voice that addresses you personally.

All of us are called to do what we do with the highest ethical standards — to treat others with respect, to put people before profit, to look out for the common good. The voice of vocation points you to what you do even more than how you do it. A vocation is a preoccupation before it’s an occupation. It closes the gap in your soul between who you are and what you do. It’s as much about making a life as making a living.

The call of God may be to ministry in the church or to ministry for the church in the world. God doesn’t only call preachers, while all others are left to figure it out for themselves. The world is full of altars on which to make your offering to God.

Frederick Buechner’s adage is hard to beat: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”