She had a professional qualification in accounting and had worked in one of the Big 4 accounting firms for a while. But deep down she knew she was a teacher with a special love for preschoolers. And so she resigned from her accounting job and became a kindergarten teacher in her church. The drop in salary was drastic. She had to take another job to make ends meet. But her faith was strong. And her joy was real. Her story moved me profoundly.
If you are a regular reader of this column you will know that I do not divide jobs on the basis of whether they are secular or spiritual. If you are a regular reader of this column you will know that I champion the call for Christians to understand that God calls us into all sorts of work and not just into church related work. And we definitely need God’s people in the Big 4! But what moved me about my friend’s decision was that she had the courage and the faith to be true to her heart’s call.
There will be those who will call her decision a waste. What a waste to give up a job of such earning potential. What a waste of her had earned expertise in accountancy. And doesn’t she know how expensive it is to live these days? Doesn’t she know the crushing effects of inflation on those of us who are not rich?
I heard the same arguments when I came to understand that God wanted me to leave dentistry to be a full time minister of the Word. I had expected that non-Christian friends would have found it difficult to accept such a counter-cultural decision. What I didn’t expect was that most of the resistance to my leaving dentistry to go into a church related vocation came from Christians.
I would have thought that Christians would be the first to understand that our lives are not our own and that we are all but stewards of the lives we have received. I would have thought that Christians would understand that their security lies ultimately in the Lord and not in the monthly pay cheque, and that the most secure place one can be is walking in the will of the Lord wherever that journey takes you.
I was wrong.
It seems that many churches are not places that encourage people to discover their vocations, and support them as they embark on their God-given adventures. And it seems like this reluctance to think of life in vocational terms is not new.
At the age of 30, Albert Schweitzer decided to leave his position as principal of a theological seminary to enter medical school to prepare to be a missionary doctor to Africa. He talks about the resistance he received.
“My relatives and friends reproached me for the folly of my enterprise. They said I was a man who was burying the talent entrusted to him and wanted to trade in false currency. I ought to leave work among Africans to those who would not thereby abandon gifts and achievements in scholarship and the arts…
In the many adversarial debates I had to endure with people who passed for Christians, it amazed me to see them unable to perceive that the desire to serve the love preached by Jesus may sweep a man into a new course of life. They read in the New Testament that it can do so, and found it quite in order there.
I had assumed that familiarity with the sayings of Jesus would give a much better comprehension of what to popular logic is not rational.”
(Albert Schweitzer, Out of My Life and Thought, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998, pp. 81-95.)
We cheat the world of the Schweitzers in our midst by not encouraging our people to find and pursue their vocations. And we cheat ourselves and our children from living lives of meaning and significance.
How do we discover our vocation? I believe discovering our vocation is a life long journey. A good starting place is to consider the primary calls on our lives. We have been called to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbour as ourselves (Mark 12:29-31). With my abilities, burdens and opportunities how do I best love God and neighbour at this point of my life?
And here is Frederick Buechner’s oft quoted advice:
“By and large a good rule for finding out (your life calling) is this:
the kind of work God usually calls you to do is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done. If you really get a kick out of your work, you’ve presumably met requirement (a), but if your work is writing cigarette ads, the chances are you’ve missed requirement (b).
On the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leper colony, you have probably met requirement (b) but if most of the time you’re bored and depressed by it, chances are you have not only bypassed (a), but probably aren’t helping your patients much either.
Neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
(Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC, New York: Harper & Row, 1973, p.95.)
I also believe there is no ideal time to pursue one’s vocation. Some of us carry heavy financial responsibilities — aged parents to care for, children to feed etc. The Lord knows that. We may have to do one job to put food on the table while pursuing our vocation outside of work time — and striving to do our best in both responsibilities. Others may have to wait for another season in their lives to pursue their vocation full time.
The Lord knows the details of your life and will work out everything in the end. Nothing will be wasted. We are to follow God in the realities of our life and not in some romantic never-never land.
But what all of us need is the courage and faith of my young friend who became a kindergarten teacher. At some point we need to choose the security of obeying God over the security that comes from popular logic. And when we do that we find life, life for others and life for ourselves.