Vocation and Calling

What's our calling? To be like Christ...

By Marlin Troyer

My great-uncle Alvin was a delight to be with, inquisitive, likeable and talkative to a fault. One day he told me he would have loved to have made a living as a wood crafter. But growing up during the great depression, he found work and latched on to it because any job was a lifeline. The wistfulness in his face attested to life of denial… he was not the butcher! He was far more gifted, very talented, and far more interesting.

These days I hear the college educated born of great IQ , privilege and circumstance testify to vocation as calling and destiny. I twist in the wind a bit. I am sure I was designed to labor in the cold winter, slough through muddy spring, wobble in the summer of heat exhaustion and exhaust in the fall. Yes, divinely suited to frame houses in all weather, not out of need but out of sheer joy. Surely I jest!

Some of us laborers settle into some form of contentment and manage to sing while we work. But many more of us chaff a bit at the arduous, undignified work that fills our lives. In the vast array of laborers many of God’s faithful people struggle mightily to provide for their families. Because of family, intelligence level, and circumstances beyond their control they sometimes seem stuck.

They were not college material, flunked algebra, horrible jump shot, and never made it to day camp or tutor. These faithful laborers live out a life of faith in spite of their dreams and desires. With dreams of upward mobility repeatedly crushed by life they transfer their dreams to their children who watch as others go to camp. But they long for transcendence and meaning for their lives as much as anyone.

Meanwhile we blue collar Christians seem to be desperately searching for God’s will. So that God may find us in the vocation he called us to, driving the car he specifically provided for us, married to the partner he created for me, with the 1.5 children he told us to have. Never mind the homeless beggar Lazarus that lived richly in heaven in part because of the things he suffered on earth ( Luke 16:25).

My own reality is often checked by the many faithful believers in bad jobs and tough circumstances. Admittedly some are reaping the things they have sown but in general they bother my theology. Often I find myself asking for God’s direction and guidance hoping to avoid the suffering that plagued the life of Lazarus. I will admit that faithfulness often leads to some order and material blessings.

We bend our knees imploring God for a vocation that would fit us perfectly, so that we might reach the zenith of our abilities. Instead God sends us to Midian to herd sheep lest we murder Egyptians (Exodus 20). Today Christianity is about self awareness, knowing our gifts, shape and talents. Knowing them is a license to use them, not a calling to use them. Growing the fruits of the spirit and putting on the seven virtues is so passé.

The other day at work we were gently teasing each other as we worked in the mud. “Yep, divinely shaped and designed to carry 2 x 10 boards in the mud,” I teased my fellow worker. To add to our merriment we included the third worker with, “Hey, do you feel called and designed to frame houses?” we asked. There was a pause, then he responded in brokenness, “I really don’t know anymore what I ‘m called to or designed for. Only to be like Christ I guess.” Things turned quickly serious and for a day the light shone pretty bright.

I am not suggesting God doesn’t call us to vocation and careers, I think he does. But the far more important calling is to be like Christ. To daily lay down ourselves, take up our cross and follow him, to also put on the fruits of the spirit and the seven virtues. It is the calling of all Christians, no matter the era or social class, so that we may be for his glory here and in eternity. So that he may give us our true selves that just might transcend what we do or did for a living.

Re-published with permission from the Brotherhood Beacon. This article first appeared in 2008.