Okay, bear with me for three minutes as I talk about vocation.
We’re all sick of hearing about it — for at least two reasons. First, no one at this school can shut up about it, and second, it sends us into a panic about whether the choices we’re making for our lives are the ones we’re supposed to make.
But I don’t think the point of vocation is for us to stress about it, seek it out or worry about whether we’ve found it. Instead, I think belief in vocation gives us confidence in the goodness, importance and sanctity of whatever work we find ourselves doing. In other words, vocation is more about the present than the future.
In her novel Gilead, Marilynne Robinson writes, “There are a thousand thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient.” God allows each of us to love a different set of those reasons, and our vocation consists in clinging to those loves. This means that whatever passions God has created within you are just as valuable as the ones he’s given to others.
That’s especially welcome news for those of us who love studying poetry, practicing musical instruments, playing chess — anything that doesn’t seem at first glance like what an agent of renewal is supposed to be doing. But it’s also good news for anyone who’s ever questioned whether they’re using their time well by pursuing what they love.
A further insight from Annie Dillard: “I think it would be well, and proper, and obedient, and pure, to grasp your one necessity and not let it go, to dangle from it limp wherever it takes you.”
I’m not a big fan of dangling limp wherever things take me. I like control and hate change. I know I’m not alone in that, especially at a time in the semester when we’re all sorting through what might come next, from fall classes to jobs to grad school. When we’re inundated by all these decisions, vocation often becomes a stress-inducer rather than a comfort. We want to know God’s plan for us so that we can make the choices required to bring it about. We want agency, but we also want to know we’re using that agency correctly. At least I do.
I find this Dillard quote helpful because it prompts both agency and acceptance on our part. Clinging to our God-given necessities is something we can do, something we have control over. But where it takes us is up to God. And vocation teaches us that he will use our necessities to bring about his.
So while many of the vocation conversations here at Calvin are clichéd, annoying, stressful and overly familiar in the way that dining hall food is, we still shouldn’t shut up about it.