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!