Next week, I am attending a CREDO conference. Designed for the clergy of The Episcopal Church (and now they have one for lay professionals working in the church as well, I believe), it is meant to be an opportunity to reflect with others on issues of health, vocation and spirituality. In preparing for that conference, I was struck by how often we speak of “vocation” in the church – and how we almost always apply that word to clergy and perhaps sometimes to lay people who are working for the church. Seldom, however, have I encountered this term used much outside the world of the church.
One of the definitions of vocation is “an inclination, as if in response to a summons, to undertake a certain kind of work; a calling.” The definition goes on to say that this word is used especially in a religious context, but that is out of a habit of use rather than out of any necessity. If you look at this definition of vocation, it is clear that it doesn’t require one to do religious work; what it does require is a sense of being called to some kind of work, a type of work that one feels drawn to “as if in response to a summons”.
So here is the question: does the work that we are doing have this quality of calling to it? Are we doing the work that we are doing “as if in response to a summons” from deep within us? If so, then our work and our vocation have intersected, and it is likely that we are bringing to our work our best selves, our best energy. It is likely that most of our work is characterized by a sense of joy and meaning and fulfillment.
If not, however, then it is likely that we experience our work as anything but joyful, meaningful and fulfilling. It is likely that it has more the quality of drudgery than anything else, and we are likely to find ourselves looking forward to that moment when we can lay our work aside and move on to something that really fulfills us – assuming we have energy left to do so.
It seems to me that perhaps finding this intersection between vocation and work is not so common. A lot of people – too many people – find themselves in a job that gets the bills paid but little else. In this time of unemployment and underemployment, it is perhaps especially the case that people find themselves in a job that has little meaning but keeps food on the table, if they have a job at all. When people are in survival mode, it is hard to imagine oneself finding a path that leads to fulfillment.
Yet, I have always tended to believe that each life has a God-given purpose, which is what our vocation really is, I think. Some are fortunate enough to find that purpose early in life, others find it much later. Sadly, many people never find that purpose. Sometimes vocation comes with a paycheck, and sometimes it does not. But if we are to find a more lasting, deeper happiness, I think we have to keep searching for that purpose, seeking that vocation which is uniquely ours.
I am fortunate to have this opportunity next week to reflect on my vocation and fortunate that the church supports such reflection on the part of us religious professionals. It has gotten me to thinking, however, about how we as church can support everyone in their vocational search. For what more important mission could there be than helping people to find their God-given purpose in life? Imagine how the world could be transformed if we could all find our life’s vocation.