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.