During yesterday’s morning commute, I was listening to a Christian radio station. A public service spot asked listeners to think about whether it might be time for a career change. Do you lie awake Sunday night dreading going back to work on Monday morning? Might that not be an indication that God has made you for something else, that you have a different calling?
Perhaps. I have no doubt that many if not most people find their work repetitive and dull, something done out of necessity rather than joy. Believe me, I know the feeling: when my wife and I were first married, I hated my job. I had to drag myself out of bed in the morning, then slept in on the weekends, almost as an act of rebellion.
All else being equal, the research does suggest that people who are better able to use their gifts and talents in their work report greater levels of meaningfulness and satisfaction. And it’s not a bad thing to wonder if it might be time to break out of the taken-for-granted routine and explore other ways of working within one’s existing job, or other career options altogether.
But the problem is that all else is not equal. We may have more opportunities than we’re aware of, but not all opportunities are equally available to everyone. It’s possible that someone who is dissatisfied in his or her work has missed God’s calling. But to make “calling” nearly synonymous with “work” cuts the theological heart out of the very notion of calling and its close cousin, “vocation.”
In a book exploring the concept of calling, Os Guinness wrote:
Neither work nor career can be fully satisfying without a deeper sense of calling–but ‘calling’ itself is empty and indistinguishable from work unless there is Someone who calls.
We have a calling because there is Someone who calls. And to what does God call us? Not a job. Not a career. First and foremost, Guinness insists, God calls us to a relationship. That primary calling is the context in which we can then make sense of our secondary callings, including the matters of work and career.
If we dread Monday morning, changing jobs might help: some secondary callings simply fit better with our skills and abilities, gifts and desires. But let’s not confuse job satisfaction with a right relationship with God, nor dissatisfaction with missing one’s calling.
Not everyone has a job in the usual sense, nor necessarily even wants one. Not everyone who wants a job can get or keep one, let alone change the one they have. Rather than assuming that a career change is just what the doctor–or God–has ordered to cure our unease, it might be better to begin by asking, “How can I deepen my primary calling in and through my current work situation?”
How would you answer that question?