The other six days

Has it every struck you how little real work Christ did — or at least, what we consider work? If my mission was to save the entire world in just three years, I’d be working every minute – issuing instructions, organizing committees, and trying to grab the attention of world leaders. But what does Christ do?

  • He hangs out with his friends.
  • He goes out for dinners and attends social events.
  • He teaches occasionally in the temple, apparently without any prep work.
  • He travels about. He gives open air talks, discourages publicity, and walks away when the crowds get to be too much.
  • He heals people when asked, but doesn’t go out looking for them.
  • He performs other miracles as occasion arises. Again, no prep involved.
  • He answers questions. He forgives sins. He washes feet. He gets his own feet washed.
  • He takes children onto his lap.
  • He eats, prays, loves. (Could be a book title in that.)
  • He sleeps.
  • He dies – and that not of his own volition.

To the best of my knowledge, this is a complete list of Jesus’ activities over a three-year mission. He does almost nothing we would define as work. His project is clearly not fundable, as we say in the grants-writing biz.  And yet the outcome was the redemption of the entire world, and a message that continues to change lives 2000 years later. It is perhaps no wonder that he can give us a high calling — “to be a light to the world” or to “be perfect,” and yet still say, “my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

The work we do

John E. and I have been discussing the concept of vocation, inspired in part by an essay by Patricia Thompson, “Being the Change We Want: A Conversation about Vocational Renewal for Non-Profit Leaders.” In this essay, Thompson cites a tantalizing definition of vocation from Frederick Buechner as “the place where our deep gladness and the world’s great hunger meet.”

How do we find our vocation? Thompson gives some hints: reflection, community, the satisfaction we feel when we’re doing the right work, the quality of the results. But for me, the most important hint is this: her call to let go of what Thomas Merton describes as “our fixation on our self-willed identity.”

It’s this “self-willed identity” that makes me, a self-employed consultant, feel guilty when I’m not “working” – even when I have money in the bank and there is no deadline in sight. It’s what stops me from seeing where I fit into the bigger story, where perhaps nothing at all is required of me.

But I have another struggle with vocation too. I do have times, in my paid work and elsewhere, where I have encountered “a deep gladness.” But it doesn’t meet the world’s “great hunger.” Actually, the world seems to need it like a hole in the head.

Friends, I would love to hear about your own discoveries about vocation. I know some of you have already discovered your vocation. When you talk of your work, your faces shine. And I also see some who know their vocation, but can’t exercise it in an economy where the only jobs for young people pay minimum wage, and repaying tuition debts is the priority.

And dare I ask?  Those of you who know me are my community. If you can see my vocation more clearly than I can, my email inbox awaits!

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “The other six days

  1. elizabeth sherk

    I don’t agree with the suggestion that Jesus “did no prep” for his teaching in the temple or the miracles of healing that he offered. “My work is to do the will of One who sent me…” How did He know that will apart from much time in prayerful contemplation of the word of God, a work of preparation? And one time He admonished some frustrated followers of His that the kind of effective help He was able to give, in contrast to their powerlessness came about as a result of much prayer and fasting (Mark 9: 14 to 32)

  2. Jodi Joyce

    I agree with Elizabeth that Jesus did a huge
    amount of preparation.
    Jodi

    • Elizabeth has nailed it — the preparation of Christ is “knowing the will of the One who sent me” — and that comes from “much time in prayerful contemplation.”

      The point I am making is that, in our society, prayerful contemplation is not usually considered work. “Preparation” is made apparent by writing scripts, doing research, and so on. I notice in my own life that the really effective work of contemplation and prayer often gets pushed to the margins — something to do in my spare time, rather than incorporate actively in my work.

      I don’t think I’m alone in this. I sometimes hear people say, “I don’t want to just pray about this, I really want to do something useful” — as if prayer was not useful, or prayer did not inform other types of action and vice versa. I do the same thing to myself. I recall how much I enjoyed a three-week recuperation from an operation because I could spend the entire day in contemplations without feeling guilty. But why feel guilty? These three weeks were among the most valuable I’ve ever known.

  3. Jamie Perttula

    You have drawn me in again!

    I agree with Elizabeth about Jesus’ preparatory work, and your comments on how we don’t value that time in prayer.

    I want to comment on the work of relationships. One thing I see in Jesus’ interactions with people is a real intention to be present with the people he meets and to speak to their real needs. Hanging out is part of it, but his dialogues with people cut through the superficial and went to the heart. He also really heard what people were saying to him. I’m sure there was idle chatter and joking among Jesus and the disciples – things that aren’t recorded in scripture. However, he took his work of relationship very seriously.

    How often I fail to be that present in my relationships. How often I don’t want to work at relationships but want them to be easy.

    At the same time, as a manager of a group of people, I see one of my key responsibilities being to build a relationship with each person that can encourage them in their work and development – and that make the workplace a pleasant place.

  4. elizabeth sherk

    There’s another aspect to your thoughts on vocation, Joy, that I have been ruminating on– that Jesus effected the world so significantly in three short years of adult ministry, and a kind of laid back ministry at that, just being with people & inviting them or calling them forward into ministry like His. I think one context of relationships that has tremendous potential for moving the world forward in terms of Jesus’ prayer: “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as in Heaven” is the one we all have in our families. Families have differing styles of relationship, different levels of comfort & discomfort for the members, but in some basic way, we all do the work of nurturing children in a natural, unforced way, a “hanging out sort of way”, an unprepared way, a way marked by a lot of joy, if we, the adults in the realtionship can put some self control around our tendencies to be too scoldy/fingerwagging & bossy. The insights & teachings of people like Maria Montessori & Shinichi Suzuki, & even very recently, Malcolm Gladwell, in his book The Outsiders give a lot of hope to the value of our vocations as parents, or if not parents, what Jamie said about nurturing our colleagues….

  5. Tim Gittins

    First, just to add my thots to the above..
    “If my mission was to save the entire world in just three years” I know I’d fail miserably in any other situation than Jesus’ – one where he and the Father are one and where there is real power available, the power that created a universe and all living things, the power that is available through prayer. Prayer tho’ for me is alot of work ~ especially the kind where I am disciplined and focussed and remember everyone and everything and abandon my covetous desires on my precious little time. That for me is hard work ~ much harder that all the other kinds of work I do.

    Second:
    Re: “But I have another struggle with vocation too. I do have times, in my paid work and elsewhere, where I have encountered “a deep gladness.” But it doesn’t meet the world’s “great hunger.” Actually, the world seems to need it like a hole in the head.

    I love “a deep gladness” in my work. It’s what makes it so fulfilling and rewarding and for me, it is confirmation (among other confirmations) that I am where I am because God deemed it so. God is my well of gladness and the source from where I get any and all gladness in anything I do. And any gladness God pours out I turn back to praise. And _that_ is meeting the world’s greatest hunger.

    “The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.”

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