We have spent this summer exploring together how we figure out what it is that God calls us to do, each of us individually and all of us together. The word for this is “vocation,” from the Latin word “vocare” which literally means “to call.” Vocation: God calls us to live our lives on purpose for the common good.
Our vocations are personal to each individual but they are discerned and lived out in community. We have multiple vocations throughout our life, and multiple vocations at the same time. We are not created for production value, but we are created so we find joy and fulfillment doing some things and not others.
We talked about listening to our longings, being open, naming and living in our values, experiencing God’s presence in everyday life, attentiveness, reframing our regrets, and the posture, process, and practice of discernment itself. In this final week we are going to try to bring it all together as we think about who we are called to be, what we are called to do, and why we are here.
The question of vocation is always pertinent to us, because life never stands still. Lately I’ve really been thinking about how everything just keeps moving. It never stays the same, which is something to mourn because the good things will change. But it’s also something to be thankful for because the bad things will change. Discerning vocation is always pertinent. There is almost always some situation in our life that is calling us to discern our vocation. Many of us are headed back to school as students or teachers or staff – a change in schedule is a prompt to reconsider our vocation. A new relationship? Reconsider vocation. The loss of a relationship? Reconsider vocation. A change in health or physical abilities? Reconsider vocation. Move to a new place, a change in finances, a new job, the loss of job, retirement, all the kids are finally in school, all the kids are finally out of the house … There’s pretty much always something happening in our lives, which means there’s pretty much always something prompting us to reconsider our vocation. Discerning our vocation is an ongoing spiritual practice because vocation shifts as our lives shift and our lives are always shifting. What is shifting for you right now that might be God calling you to a shift in vocation?
I think this has been a good series. It’s been good for me personally. But since this is our final week, I want to remind you that discernment doesn’t just happen on Sunday mornings. This here is the proclamation. But then there’s conversation: you need to be in conversation with yourself and the Holy Spirit and trusted loved ones about this change in vocation. Take time to think about it. Pray about it. Journal about it, or whatever you do to process. Proclamation. Conversation. Then action. Finally, you gotta make a choice.
As with many spiritual practices, it’s easy for us to try to coast from Sunday to Sunday. Fill up the spiritual tank on Sunday morning and then just coast through the week until we come back again. That’s fine. Lots of people do that. But, honestly, that’s not going to result in much actual spiritual growth for us. If we want things to be different, we have to do something different. And often we have to do something different before we feel different.
Now please hear me: this is not a finger wagging, you should pray and read your Bible more. Do what you want. God loves you regardless. I’m saying if you personally want things to be different for you spiritually, it will take some intentionality on your part. Just like everything else in life. I think sometimes we have this feel that because God is bigger and mysterious, that we can just sit around waiting for God to zap us with some kind of spiritual growth. Peace that passes understanding? Zap! Abundant life? Zap! Joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer? Zap! Beloved ones I have been a Christian since I was four years old and pastor for more than a decade and I hate to tell you that it does not work that way. Like everything else in life, we reap what we sow. Usually. Now there are exceptions to this because God is big and mysterious and sometimes we sow a lot and feel like we are reaping nothing and sometimes we receive some kind of gracious and unexpected something from God. But the sowing without reaping anything is rare and not to be feared. I’m not saying that if you don’t feel anything it’s your fault because you are doing something wrong. My spiritual director told me recently that she thinks when a change is coming, it gets real quiet. Which is infuriating and baffling to me and also I think it’s true as I look back on my life.
And the unexpected blessing is also rare and not to be counted on. In general, in our spiritual lives, if we want things to be different and if we want to feel different, we have to do something different.
SO, what can we do specifically to discern our vocation? Here again are the basics of the VOCARE practice. If you think God might be calling you into something new, here are some questions you can actually answer to try to figure it out.
What life values are present for you in this vocation? Are they your most important values?
What does this vocation ask you to be open to? How easy is it for you to be open to this?
What voices are calling to you through this vocation? Are these voices that you want to listen to?
As you consider this vocation, what holds your attention? Is this where you want your attention to be?
What regrets does this vocation bring to mind for you? What do you do with these regrets?
Where and how in this vocation do you experience God’s presence?
You should have a bookmark with these reminders on it in your bulletin or you may have one at home already. Put it with your Bible, or your journal, or wherever you go when you have some time to think and pray. Think and pray about these questions. Take your trusted person on a picnic and sit outside and talk about these questions. If we want things to be different, if we want to feel different, we have to do something different.
I recognize, I feel for myself, that the challenge of this discernment is we never have the luxury of doing only one thing at a time. As you are trying to discern your vocation you are also trying to be faithful to the relationships and commitments that are already in place. And our lives are woven together so that a change in vocation in one area will affect other areas and other people. It’s not simple. I get it. But if we want things to be different, if we want to feel different, we have to find a way to do something different.
The final thing I want to leave you with is why vocation matters. Vocation matters because you are created to find fulfillment doing something that needs doing in the world. Let me speak to you, my congregation, very specifically this morning. This is not general; this is a word for us. We have tremendous privilege, friends. We have roofs over our heads and people who love us and some measure of disposable income and free time. We have things that weigh us down – I do. But really we have tremendous privilege. And Jesus said that to whom much is given, much is required. All the way back to Abraham and Sarah God says that God’s people are blessed to be a blessing. Again, this is not a guilt trip. It’s just a real reminder of what we are all already called to overall. If we use this tremendous privilege to amass more privilege — bigger and better whatever your thing is — eventually that’s actually going to leave us feeling empty and not full.
Don’t do everything. Please don’t do everything. You’re not designed to do everything. You will burn out and feel resentful. Say no to things. But also say yes. You can be generous and still take care of your family. You can be generous as a family by including others in what you do. You like kids, will you spend one of the 720 hours you have in the month in the nursery or with the kids in the Sunday School or reading with a kid at one of our schools? Can you share one of the 540 meals you will eat in the next six months with the precious folk at Family Promise? You care about poverty and addiction and loneliness and domestic abuse? Can you use one of the 720 hours in your month to provide spiritual support to the inmates at Delaware County jail because all of those wounds are present in those people? Do I want you to be involved in the ministries of this church? Of course I do. Do I think that the things we do are what everyone is called to do. No. And yet, if you are called to be a member here, if being a member here is part of your vocation, then you are called to participate in the ministries of this church.
Part of taking care of yourself includes discerning your vocation, the wonderfully fulfilling thing that you are created to experience and use to bless the world. This may not be your paid job. That’s fine. Maybe you’re already doing stuff that is really fulfilling and you need to hear that God has created you to do that and think about how you might use it to bless others (Steven?). If you love doing something, God made you that way. Thank God for it. Accept that vocation and live into it. Dedicate it to God and find ways to use it for God’s glory. We are each and all created in the Divine Image with gifts and graces that light us up and can be a blessing to the world. Let’s figure it out. Amen.