Ironically, it’s not always about the nature of the work. In my last position, I spent 3 years as a sales and marketing manager for a medical supply company. I have no passion for medical supplies. We sold clunky, unattractive, therapeutic shoes – not exactly a thing to get passionate about. And… I hate sales. I really do. But guess what? I absolutely LOVED the job. About two years in Kim commented, “you know… you don’t hate your job”.
I said, “yeeeaaahhh…?”
She said, “You’ve always hated your job. We’ve been married for over twenty years and you have never gone more than a day or two without complaining – until now. I can’t remember the last time I heard you gripe about your job”
It was a revelatory moment. Why? Why did I not hate my job? It was not a dream job. It was not a field where I had a great passion. So why?
I figured it out pretty quickly. It was the environment… It was the people I worked with. It was… you guys have heard me speak – you knew this was coming… it was the community.
When that job fell apart last December… when we all lost out jobs… I missed the paycheck. I missed the benefits. But I’ll eventually find those again. The loss that I grieve is the community. I wonder if that will be as likely to come again.
Vocation is action. Vocation is task. But vocation becomes burden and obligation without community. Community breathes life into these tasks; into our calling. Unpleasant jobs are made less so when we share them with folks we care about. Maybe that’s what we really mean buy “misery loves company”. I can do anything… as long as I don’t have to do it alone.
Even the things we love, the things that stir our passions… even these things take on new life in community.
“the life I love is makin’ music with my friends” ~willie nelson
I get that. I have played alone and I enjoy it. But when I get to play with other musicians, the experience deepens. And when those other musicians are friends – people I care about and who care about me… that’s when the moment becomes transcendent.
Let me ask a question. How many of you like your jobs? Not deliriously happy. Just “Like” or at least not “Hate”?
Now… think back to when you were… say… 16 – 18. How many of you are doing NOW what you expected to be doing when you were 16, 17, 18 years old?
Yeah… me either. I was gonna be a rock star.
Vocation is sometimes living out your dreams. Usually, it’s just getting done what needs doing. But community shares the load. It makes it lighter. It takes away a bit of the pressure. It gives us the means to celebrate our victories and to mourn our defeats.
Jesus believed this. If anyone was ever capable of fulfilling his vocation alone it was Jesus. He did not need affirmation or pats on the back. He didn’t need advice or consent. But he needed a community. He needed to work out his vocation with a community of friends. Not just co-workers… friends.
When he began his ministry; it did not take long for him to start gathering guys like Peter, John, Andrew… even Judas. No question that Jesus came to do something only He could do. His vocation – his calling was His alone. But as He lived out this vocation, he shared it with a community of friends. With his buddies. I wonder if, on a long and exhausting day, those 12 guys made the load a bit lighter. I wonder if the weight of Jesus calling was sometimes too much – and if those friends made the unbearable a little more bearable. And I wonder if the only comfort he found, as he hung on the beams of his Roman cross, was the face of his best and closest friend John.
“Jesus does not fulfill his vocation in action only but also in passion. He doesn't just fulfill his vocation by doing the things the Father sent him to do, but also by letting things be done to him that the Father allows to be done to him, by receiving other people's initiatives.”
~ Henri Nouwen, “From Action to Passion”
In Gethsemane, the scripture tells us that Jesus was “handed over”. Not just by Judas but, in a sense, by God himself. In the hours that followed, Jesus vocation changed from action to passion. From an active moving forward to a much more difficult waiting. He was now in the hands, not of his friends, but of those who hated him. He submitted himself to be handed over to their will – and – to the will of the father.
Our vocation, our calling, is action but it is also, sometimes, waiting. When we lose a job, we wait. When we lose a loved one, we wait. When our plans and hopes seem lost and the path we had chosen is blocked, we wait. But we do not wait alone.
“the waiting is the hardest part” ~Tom Petty
When I lost my mother – the worst thing was being alone. When I lost my job, I could not stand to be home alone. When we wait, no matter what we are waiting for, we need a community to wait WITH.
I love the story of Job because, if you read it correctly, it is amazing how little has changed over the centuries. Job was in bad shape. He had lost everything. When he was at his lowest, his community stepped in. And just like good church folk, they spent the next several chapters trying to figure out how Job’s agony was, in fact, Job’s fault. “Let me tell you, Brother Job, what you did to cause the death of your wife and children…”
Job’s friends were not content to wait with Job. They missed this idea completely. They did not get that vocation is not always action – sometimes it is simply waiting. It is simply passion. They simply tried to rush the process. They figured they could hurry God along by unearthing the unknown sin in Job’s heart. And these friends, in the end, did nothing to comfort Job or to share his burden. Instead they added heavier weight to the already unbearable burden he carried.
Our vocation – our calling – is to be and do what Christ was and did. To remake the earth – to be agents of his now and coming kingdom. This work begins in our own hearts and spreads thorough out every part of the world that we touch.
“Our vocation is not simply to be, but to work together with God in the creation of our own life, our own identity, our own destiny. We are free beings and sons and daughters of God. This means to say that we should not passively exist, but actively participate in His creative freedom, in our own lives, and in the lives of others, by choosing the truth. To put it better, we are even called to share with God the work of creating the truth of our identity. ...To work out our own identity in God, which the Bible calls "working out our salvation," is a labour that requires sacrifice and anguish, risk and many tears. It demands close attention to reality at every moment and great fidelity to God as He reveals Himself, obscurely, in the mystery of each new situation.”
~ Thomas Merton. “New Seeds of Contemplation”
We “participate in His creative freedom, in our own lives, and in the lives of others”. We continue his vocation. We announce his kingdom to the world... we build his kingdom in the world... and we celebrate his kingdom... and all of these things we do together. In community. In a family.
We work and we wait. We move with action and we wait in passion. We follow our call to work and to be still. We labour and sacrifice and anguish and risk and weep. We follow him by being like him. We call others into our work. We join others in their work. We share our passions with those who love us and we support the passions of those we love.
If we see our call as his call... if our vocation is His vocation... then we will carry our call as he carried his. We will labour and sacrifice and risk and weep... together.
His kingdom come...