I like the word, 'vocation.' It is built upon the Latin for calling and reminds us that what we do in life, whether it is a paid career or a volunteer service around the neighborhood, is done because of what God spoke into being when he made us. We are called and we respond. I also can’t help but notice what Paul says about our vocations in 1 Corinthians 12. He says that they are related to the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Spiritual gifts are given to everyone of our members. Many use them to build up the church. Humor me, let me apply Paul’s words here to the broader realm of the service we give in life, to our jobs, to our community, and to our loved ones. Both the roles that we take on (father, mother, boss, pastor) and the skills that we need to perform in those roles, are from God. They are a sacred trust. He assigns them as He wishes.
When I was a youth, I remember hearing my parents and teachers people tell me that I could become whatever I wanted. “One of you boys here might become president, someday,” my third grade teacher said. It wasn’t until later that I realized that I was being told this so often because I was white, male, and a product of the American suburban class. I went to college in the early 1970s and was told to “choose my own major.” It wasn’t long before I heard a classmate complain that she was being pressured to leave the engineering program because she was a woman. Another woman told me that her parents expected her to marry someone of the same ethnicity. Remaining single or dating the people she wanted to date, was not an option. Meanwhile, my cousin was being ostracized from his family for being gay. Over the years, I have come to realize how privileged I was to grow up in an environment that encouraged me to become what I wanted to become.
Elsewhere, Paul speaks eloquently against prejudice in the Church. Here, I feel a further challenge, as we think soberly about our own lives (Romans 12:2) and reflect on our gifts and graces, none of us are free to become whatever we decide to become. God instead plants deep desires in our spirit, and these become connected with talents and temperament and eventually with daily tasks. So we become, lover, mother, servant, writer, caregiver, etc. Our role, is not to be the decision maker, but the willing participant in the journey. We hush our personal ambitions, in order know the creator’s spirit.
In a similar fashion, we must be careful to be open minded and supportive of others as they explore their own vocations. The Holy Spirit may be preparing them for just the thing we are raising objections about. How often have we grieved the Holy Spirit in matters related to our own relationships and work? How much more sin are we capable of as we meddle in the spiritual formation of others? How should I respond when to the cousin or friend who takes as a partner a person of the same gender? When a person of the ‘wrong’ gender, background, age, or whatever, seeks for a job in the church or in a secular workplace, how do I respond? Is it possible that my response reveals more about the privileges I have enjoyed, than about the wisdom and discernment that I have learned?