On any given day, I can take the fact of my career for granted. In my better moments, I know it represents my vocation; it’s an embodiment of what God has called me to do and be. But on the longest and most tiresome days, that perspective can be hard to maintain. My vocation becomes a job, a task I have to finish before I get to go home.
But every once in a while, God reminds me of what I’m missing.
A couple of weeks ago, I was blessed to be able to hear stories told by Don Rogers, the founder and International Director of Empowering Lives International, a ministry which began 20 years ago in Kenya and has since expanded into Tanzania, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In the midst of oppressive situations of poverty, violence, disease, and addiction, ELI empowers the poor, widows, and orphans to stand on their own through training and education in sustainable practices.
ELI has raised many orphans in the Christian faith, educating them toward success in the larger world. When they are old enough, for example, the young men have an opportunity to learn woodworking skills in a well-equipped shop, under the tutelage of a true craftsman.
Don showed pictures of the artisan’s work: lovingly handmade, delicately carved furniture that anyone would be pleased to own. Every morning, the man unlocks the doors of the woodshop and prays as he prepares to receive his young charges. He is grateful for the divine and human generosity that made the equipment available, and is keenly aware of the value of his materials, such as the precious mahogany that may go into making a side chair. He takes great care in his work, so as to waste as little wood as possible.
I’m no craftsman: I’ve done only the simplest kinds of woodwork. Yet this man’s story prompted an immediate gut check in me. Do I work with the same spirit of gratitude and care?
There’s a difference between plying one’s craft with a sense of grateful wonder, and working with an anxious need to be productive, or perhaps just as wearying, working merely to get the job done. I’m a teacher, and I teach therapists- and ministers-in-training. What we all share in common is that we work with time and people. What would it mean to receive the two-hour lecture or the fifty-minute therapy hour as a gift from God, as a space to create something pleasing to him? What difference would it make to treat every person that comes through the door as precious?
I know: many people would be grateful just to have a job, any job, and that last paragraph might sound a bit too lofty for some of the things we must do to earn a paycheck. But the job is merely a means to express the vocation, not the vocation itself. Whatever we do, we do as unto God. We are called by God to receive life as a gift, and when we do, any place can be a place of wonder. What might that look like for you?