As I approach the impending deadline of the “rest of my life,” the question of vocation haunts me like a Dickensian specter. The more I am asked the question, the larger it looms, building up an intolerable pressure. Posing such a question inevitably forces one to confront the more tacit and deeply terrifying questions that no one really wants to think about: what is my purpose, who am I, and am I significant?
What lies behind these questions are deep-seated fears and anxieties about our very identity and existence. Being able to articulate one’s calling is the signature of one’s meaning and purpose in the universe. It says, “God has seen me and given me a special task to do.” Thus, the true fear of investigating one’s vocation is that one will be met with God’s silence: what if I don’t actually have a vocation? What if God hasn’t called me to anything?
However, there are two problems with this line of questioning. The first, is a misunderstanding of what vocation is and what it entails. The second, is a general ignorance of the Christian response to existence. A simple clarification of the concept of vocation along with an explication of the Christian response to mortality will provide one with a therapeutic release from the pressure of “having it all figured out.”
Generally, people approach vocation with unrealistic and sometimes devastating expectations. The assumption that one could spend a few years in higher education and proceed to immediately step into one’s vocation is blatantly false. Underlying this fantasy is the presumption that finding one’s vocation is a passive activity. One only needs to wait for an obvious epiphany to be compelled towards a particular profession.
This presupposes that one discerns their vocation without much thought or reflection. However, discovering one’s vocation is demanding work. Discerning one’s vocation requires an immense amount of thought, exploration, and wisdom that can’t conceivably be achieved in the short span of one’s twenties or thirties. Paradoxically, it may be a sign of great maturity to accept that one’s sense of vocation is obscure throughout most of one’s life, rather than continue to suffer under the false assumption that one ought to know what one’s vocation is at any given point in time.
Furthermore, we deceive ourselves if we assume that vocation is reducible to a career. The fluidity of life simply cannot accommodate such a static definition of the term. It may assist our own sense of self and vocation to start thinking about vocation as a way of life, rather than a day job. By construing vocation as a way life, we become better attuned to the Spirit’s constant movement within the seemingly inane details of our lives. Consequently, we discover that God’s calling is and will always be present upon our lives.
At a basic level we are all called at all times to be disciples of Christ. This means that we are life-long students of the very life we have committed ourselves to live. It is good to be reminded that our religious tradition understands faith to be diachronic; it is not something we possess, but something that we are formed by with the help of exemplars, the sacraments, prayer, and spiritual attunement. Construed this way, vocation is a bit more straightforward.
Acknowledgments: This post was made possible through the deep wisdom of trusted friends and mentors including Dr. Carson Reed, The Very Right Reverend Doug Travis, The Reverend Becca Kello, and Chance Juliano. I also drew from Alain de Botton’s blog, The School of Life.
About the Author:
Sarah Dannemiller is currently working towards her Master of Arts in Theology. She hopes to graduate in May 2019. No, she does not have a clear idea of what she is doing after so please don’t ask. Her research interests include questions in philosophy of religion, theological anthropology, and epistemology of theology.