“[True vocation] is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” (Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking)
The word “vocation” comes from the Latin “vocare,” meaning “to call, summon, invoke.” “Vocation” has the sense of being called, of having something called out of us, of being unique suited for something. For that reason it’s often associated with religious careers, but we at Everyday Epics believe it also applies more broadly to every person (and by extension every group or community), since we’re all part of a bigger story. None of us is exempt from the “call” to be truly human, to steward, tend and care for each other and to join our Creator in working to bring healing and restoration to this wonderful, hurting creation.
I believe the process of discovering and living out a true calling is:
Provisional — It’s always unfolding, which means we have to make room in our lives for it to unfold. It rarely happens overnight, though people do occasionally “get called” via a burning bush or a dip in a river or getting blinded on a business trip.
Incarnational — Living a more integrated, other-centered life is like going on a long journey or pilgrimage. It can’t be done by proxy. It involves lots of trial and error. We have to take the first step, to stand face-to-face and wrestle with it, to set off into the unknown.
Emotional — Like any creative enterprise into which we dive heart and soul, it can be painful or joyful or both at the same time. Sharing a story of need with people who are suffering hurts.
Seasonal — We live it out differently during different stages/seasons of our lives. The calling itself doesn’t change, but our expression of it does. How we live it out as young adults might be different from how we live it out in our golden years.
Ongoing — A calling or vocation of service is not the same as volunteering or volunteerism. Volunteering can be something that you do on the side, an hour a month, when you carve out the free time. A calling of service is 24/7/365. It’s not a hat you can take on and off at will. It’s your reason for living, your unique, ongoing gift to the world. It’s never far from your mind. It occupies your time and your resources. It’s as true of you when you’re at work as it is when you’re on vacation. In the same way, true calling lasts from our “aha!” moment (and perhaps even before it) to our final breath. It’s necessarily long-term, because it can only properly unfold in all its expressions and details over time.
Intergenerational — I believe calling applies to individuals, and to families, groups of friends, faith communities and other groups of people, which suggests true calling survives even the death of “a founder.” For example, let’s say a suburban dad who’s married with four kids senses he and his family have been called to help restore a run-down area of an inner city. The family moves there, the parents work there, the kids go to school there. The dad is a gifted builder who negotiates deals between the city and private contractors to begin rebuilding their neighborhood, the mom welcomes neighbors and their kids into their home, the kids observe their parents, helping them serve meals at the local soup kitchen every week. The kids grow up. One becomes a teacher, one a doctor, one an administrator and one a builder. The teacher gets a job at a local elementary school and lives nearby. The doctor, who loves working with people, and the administrator, who loves planning and working with numbers, start a free medical clinic in the neighborhood. The engineer marries a lawyer and moves to a different city, but they return twice a year to help their sister the administrator oversee the construction of low-cost housing and do pro-bono work with homeless and low-income families in the area. Eventually, the parents die, but the family’s calling continues and grows.