The Difference Between Calling and Career

One of the blessings of unemployment is that it forces one to recognize the difference between a calling and a career, the all-important distinction between a job and a life.  Since losing my job I have been forced to learn that my meaning in the scheme of God’s creation does not come from my title or my source of employment.  Impressive business cards and beautiful offices are nice, for those fortunate enough to have them, but they have little to do with one’s calling.  While currently without a job, I still have a purpose, a place that God wants me to occupy for his glory, one spot in the universe at a moment in history when I can make  the world feel a little more like heaven.

In fact, sometimes having a job, especially if it’s the wrong job, can keep us from sensing and enjoying our purpose, from doing what God has called us to do.  Frederick Buechner observed, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”  Today, though unemployed, I got to hang out with a group of evangelical leaders who are strategizing together how we can improve the lives of millions of immigrants in the name of Jesus Christ.  By shaping strategy and suggesting connections I experienced the gladness of God’s kingdom.  Doing what God made me to do in an effort to make the world a better place.

Two days earlier I sat in a coffee house in Yellow Springs, Ohio sending out emails asking people to read 40 verses of scripture about how God’s people should treat the strangers and aliens who live among us (the “I was a Stranger” challenge ).  While I was working a single mother with a very noisy child came and sat at the table next to mine.  The child was annoying and distracting and I could tell the mother was stressed by the disruption that her child was causing.

That was when God called me.   Not to strategize about immigration or send out emails, but to put aside my work and play with a 16-month old child.  We counted crayons, taking them in and out of a small torn box over and over again, saying the colors; pointing out the existence of noses and ears.  The mom looked disheveled and stressed, but her look softened when she realized that I saw the beauty in her child.  We talked about the challenge of parenting young children, the sleepless nights, the fear of wondering if we are doing things right, of not knowing if we will be able to protect our children when they need it the most.  As she left I said, “It was nice to meet you,” even though I never did get her name.

I didn’t do this because I’m an unusually nice guy.  My first reaction was annoyance and indignation. “Why can’t that woman be a better parent?”  But that’s when God called me.  He nudged me to be more like Jesus.  The strange thing is that it didn’t make the coffee house feel more like heaven for her alone; it made it more like heaven for me as well.  I experienced the gladness of mercy and hunger meeting.  My former job was to be a college administrator.  My calling is to be kind, to extend mercy, to be known as a person who makes peace.

I don’t have  job today, but I do have lots of work to do, a calling to fulfill.  Opportunities abound to do small things that make the world feel a bit more like heven and to remind people that Jesus really is an amazing friend of sinners.  To be called is to live out the fullness of who God has made us to be in ways that advance his glory and contribute to his kingdom.

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9 Responses to The Difference Between Calling and Career

  1. Carl,
    These are some great and priceless thoughts. I know I wrestle often with the idea that possibly my job gets in the way of what my heart burns for. Hopefully at some point God will give the avenue for those things! Being Jesus in the monatany (spelled wrong…oops)of is really the difficult part sometimes!

    I look forward to reading more of your thoughts over time!

  2. Carl. Love the attitude and the words you are spreading during a difficult time in life. These moments, right now, will define you and what you stand for. Stand firm & speak the truth. Much love buddy.

  3. Really appreciate these words of encouragement, Dr. Ruby. It’s awesome to see that your identity is firmly planted in Christ not in a position. You are in the prayers of many.

    (also, it’s Buechner, not Butcher 😉 I love that man’s writings!)

  4. Love this Carl. So glad you’ll be keeping a blog- I’ll definitely be following along. My favorite line from above: “To be called is to live out the fullness of who God has made us to be in ways that advance his glory and contribute to his kingdom.” Truth!

  5. Time well spent, at least in His eyes!

    People brought babies to Jesus, hoping he might touch them. When the disciples saw it, they shooed them off. Jesus called them back. “Let these children alone. Don’t get between them and me. These children are the kingdom’s pride and joy. Mark this: Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.” Luke 18:15-17

  6. thanks for reminding us of Frederick Buechner’s powerful & thought-provoking quote about vocation.

    In Tim Keller’s new book on work Every Good Endeavor, he says this: “…something can be a vocation or calling only if some other party calls you to do it, and you do it for their sake rather than for your own. Our daily work can be a calling only if it is reconceived as God’s assignment to serve others.” (p.66)

    blessings Carl!

  7. Carl, Just a great reminder that doing little things for people can make a big difference in their life. Your life exemplifies that…challenges me to listen for God’s calling in my every day life to the people I come in contact with!

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