Sunday, June 5, 2011

A JOURNEY IN VOCATION

In a vacuum of sound career counsel, I've forged something of a vocational path…or followed a leading unspoken.

MYSTERIOUS WAYS. “God works in mysterious ways God’s wonders to perform.”  That’s a phrase old timers have used to describe the sometimes roundabout ways good things happen in spite of not so clear directions or direct means.  I use it here to describe the vocational journey on which I have thus far been led.  I have not done what I started out to do; instead, I have thus far been engaged in opportunities and avenues beyond my imagination.

COUNSEL NONEXISTENT.  Here’s my take on my early career counsel: It did not exist.  Whatever career counsel I indirectly received during high school and college was heavily couched in spiritual language about doing God’s will, laying down my life for Christ and finding out God’s perfect plan for my life.  Any thoughts about pursuing art, writing, teaching, or political science were eclipsed by the heavy hand of evangelical fervency.

CALLING VS CAREER.  “Career” was not a word that was used.  “Career” was considered a secular word.  I was led to believe it was a word used by faith-less people.  It was used, so I was told, only if one left God out of the equation of one’s future and service.  “Calling” was the preferred phrase.  “Seeking the will of God” was what one did to discern one’s “call” or “vocation.”

PERFECT PLAN? I was also led to believe that there was one mysterious but very certain and “perfect plan” for each person’s life. So the challenge of discovering and doing that became a very heavy thing for an adolescent. Other kids were imagining and exploring careers; I was in inner turmoil about discerning God’s perfect will for my life. I did not want to miss that perfect path, even if it meant choosing to do something entirely out of my range or nature.

WHO’S LISTENING?  For all my inquisitiveness and earnestness about discovering and doing the will of God, I cannot recall anyone sitting down with me and offering to help me discern it.  Or to listen patiently to my certitudes so that they may question my shallow assumptions.  Or to dare to correct or redirect my notions.  Or to suggest that God may well be glorified in my life through a non-church affiliated career.  I was pretty much on my own with my head full of second-hand notions and preachments about my future.

WHAT DID THEY KNOW, ANYWAY?  The flip side of the absence of vocational counsel is that I was probably not very open to it.  Reacting to unrealistic legalisms and entrenched closed-mindedness purveyed by my elders as I was at the time, I don’t think whatever would-be guides might have said or counseled would have impressed me positively.  What did they know, I figured.  Who were they to counsel me about my future’s direction?  While no one approached me, they would likely have been on thin ice if they had.

MY VOCATIONAL HOME.  Given the absence of vocational counsel, the intensity of evangelical influence, and my own need to pry myself away from the plodding mindset of my elders, happening onto urban ministry during college was a win-win at the time.  It still is.  Trying to understand urban dynamics and be creative in service in what amounts to a socially dysfunctional arena complete with conflicting paradigms of service, self-sabotaging urban systems, and a schizophrenic Church—this is my vocational home.

LIVING ON THE EDGE.  This is the arena in which I feel I am presently called to “work out my salvation with fear and trembling,” confident that God’s mercy and grace are functioning actively and persistently in this context.
I am constantly pushed to the limit of my certainties, abilities, and foregone conclusions.  I am frequently challenged to cross social boundaries, explore my theological presumptions, deal positively with diversity, and draw the circle of grace wider and wider.  I couldn’t ask for anything more.

(I wrote this in 2006.  Five years later, though I currently spend much of my time working in international development, it holds).

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