A game changer: Understanding our work as a vocation

Throughout my childhood, my mother’s mantra was that the purpose of life was to “help make the world a better place.” She has been an amazing role model in this regard; she has spent the past fifty years in the trenches fighting for social justice, serving others, giving generously and with gladness of heart.

 Watercolor by Lynn Holbein, 2017,  www.lynnholbein.com

Watercolor by Lynn Holbein, 2017, www.lynnholbein.com

But for me, there has always been something missing in the take-away of this message. How do you actually make the world a better place? As a I describe in my memoir, Following the Red Bird, the model for effective social change has always felt elusive even though I have spent the past twenty years working for non-profits organizations both domestically and internationally.

As a new Christian convert, I’ve started to see the mandate my mother gave me in a whole new light. For one, I have started to recognize my professional work as a God-given vocation. For the past decade I have worked in international public health helping to increase access to birth control in developing countries. Part of my journey has been starting to recognize and understand this work not just through a secular lens as a “career,” but rather as a something that God has called me to do. Viewing my work as a vocation changes things. For one, it makes me more grateful; it’s work I love, and I’m thankful to God for the gift. And understanding the work as a vocation helps me remain more focused on serving others rather than on trying to serve my own ego. Instead of jockeying to “advance” my own career, I constantly work to keep myself focused on listening for and responding to God’s call – including, most importantly, Christ’s call to be a servant and to love my neighbor.

Understanding my work as vocation also helps me have humility. The aspect of the secular perspective on social change that feels limiting to me is the assumption that we, as human justice-fighters, can make the world a better place all on our own. Nadia Bolz-Weber challenges this worldview. She writes that her journey of recovering from alcoholism did not occur as a result of her own efforts or striving, but rather because of God’s grace. She said that those with a secular view of how the world becomes better, “have a higher opinion of human beings than I have ever felt comfortable claiming, as someone who both reads the paper and knows the condition of my own heart.” She goes on to say, “having had the experience of getting sober....I couldn’t be comforted by my own divinity or awesomeness….What I needed was a specific divine source of reconciliation and wholeness, as source that is connected to me in love, but does not come from inside me.” (from Pastrix, pg 45).

I have found that when I go outside of myself and listen for the call of vocation – from the divine source that connects us in reconciliation and wholeness – this becomes a game changer. And that was the game changer I was hungry for during all those years I spent as a non-profit worker trying to “make the world a better place” with only myself and other imperfect humans to rely on. For this change in my heart and life, I say simply: Thanks be to God.

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Do you view your work as vocation? Are you in the middle of discerning where God may be calling you next? How can we encourage one another to recognize and lean into our God-given vocations? I invite you to join the conversation here.