I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the word vocation. Since I was 19 years old I have been collecting degrees in theology (a BA, a MTS and soon a PhD). I felt a strong attraction to theology and theological questions and have often described the experience of this attraction being not unlike the experience of falling in love with a person. In many ways, I did not choose theology, theology chose me. As a result of this I have often described the experience of becoming a theologian as a pursuit of vocation. In other words I was collecting these degrees because in some sense I felt that God had created me for this purpose; for this life’s work.
One of the questions I have been asked often in the process of collecting these degrees is usually what am I going to do with these degrees. After all, who pursues knowledge for the pleasure of learning? Degrees must always point to a goal of employment, right? My answer to this question has always been that I would become a professor…the logical conclusion of spending 25 years in school!
As I began nearing the end of the collection of these degrees and began teaching I stumbled on a fortunate coincidence, I loved teaching. However, I say this was a coincidence because I realized in the process of finishing and teaching that I still hadn’t found what I was looking for…that there was something more to my vocation, to my life’s work.
In the past I have always thought that vocation was toward a specific field or specific line of work. For instance, one was called to be a social worker or a doctor, or a parent or a musician or create delectable foods, or more then one call at the same time. To some degree, the economic collapse of 2008 along with other life circumstances and choices has made gaining employment as a working theologian very difficult and the experience of watching myself procrastinate with writing my dissertation has shown me that this might not be my true passion. As a result I have worn many hats while adjuncting the past few years and have finally concluded that the plan of becoming a professor is either financially unsustainable (as adjuncting and selling makeup only stretch so far) or I will have to sacrifice having any control over where I live and take a job anywhere I can get one. After a year of deliberation I have finally made a decision…I started nursing school last month.
As I made this decision the first thought that came to my mind was, have I violated my vocation? I didn’t innately think so, I know that I will make a great nurse. I have the right gifts and skills for it, plus I know I will love the lifestyle and work. But nonetheless, I have spent the last 10 years telling people and myself that my vocation was to become a theologian and this seemed to be some form of violation. It’s true, I love teaching, and I love theology, and I love being a part of theological communities. I feel so privileged to have been able to study in the ways that I have. But in the end I think my concept of vocation is expanding and growing. First and foremost, my vocation is to be a baptized Christian. From there, vocation is the use of whatever skills I have to make the world a more merciful and just place.
I am particularly interested in what the word vocation means in the context of both the economic collapse and the reality that most people work in 4 to 5 different careers in his or her lifetime. How will this word vocation shift in meaning as people need to find more ways of becoming financially sustainable and meet other demands and needs in their lives? How will this word continue to shift in light of the fact that most people will work in several different capacities in his or her lifetime? Are these types of life shifts at all consistent with the word vocation?