The Call of God

My Vocation
by Lyndsey Graves

Can we talk about this word “vocation” for a hot second? Why we keep saying “vocation” when we mean “career”? We take the word “calling from God” and apply it to our aspirations for paid employment. How small of us. It’s just like when you meet someone at a party and you ask them what they “do”. We ask young people about their vocation so we can spiritualize our curiosity about what they’re going to “do”. I’ve been pursuing higher education for six years now, and for six years people have been pestering me about my vocation.

Well, one of my vocations is to be a student. I am a damn good student. If I were not reading and writing in some capacity, I’d be wasting my time on this earth. When I took a year and worked at a food pantry, reading and writing still called to me from deep inside. I work hard at school because God made me a thinker; I am smack in the middle of my vocation. I’m not waiting for it.

I have lots of other vocations, too, things God has me doing now and things that beckon from the future. I share love with a good-hearted man from New York state. I give money to my local church. I make food for my housemates and I clutch a phone in laughter and in prayer for friends states away. I visit my family in Georgia as much as possible. I’m supposed to talk to my priest about the way our church can love gay people, but I’m too scared. And in the future, I’m hoping to live in the South. I plan to be a gardener. I will be a person of hospitality and open my home to others as often as possible. I will count as friends those who are different from me. I will care for my friends more than for comfort and love my family more than career-pride. This is the calling of God on my life.

What I do for money is cater gourmet events at Boston museums. Is that my vocation? No. It’s a way to get money, and it would sicken me to try and spiritualize it, for all the people we get drunk and all the food we throw away. It’s not the vocation of anyone else who works there either, but it’s some people’s lifelong career. Not everyone gets to sit around and speculate about what very special job fits their very special self. Some people just have to make money.

What we do all share is a vocation to personhood, to the fulfillment of that full humanity that is so betrayed by our sin, our determination to stay small and selfish. That is the vocation I have pursued in seminary, and that has, indeed, changed and grown. I have learned how many ways there are to abandon this world for the love of God, and I have followed God ever-deeper into God’s love for the world. I have lost the taste for ready-made food and plastic celebrations; I’ve dug my fingers into the promises of fresh cilantro and the old-fashioned happiness of tea and candlelight. I’ve lost the knack of excusing injustice and claiming it’s not my fault; yet I’ve left behind the self-righteousness of thinking I alone could put it right again. I’ve continued the long trek of holiness we’ve all been wandering since kindergarten, those days when tasks like sharing and being nice and helping people and cleaning up after myself have seemed just as insurmountable as they ever were.

I’ve forgotten to pray and remembered again; I’ve deliberately run from God and then collapsed into her arms again, where she was patiently following me all along. This is all there is to do as humans in our hundred years – to be, people, with God, to learn love by doing the brave right thing, to put down the save-the-world schemes we’ve constructed out of pipe cleaners and pray every once in a while that we can love somebody today. It is a way of being, not a career goal, that determines whether we’re fulfilling our duty and our identity as God’s beloved. It is my vocation, in the end, to be generous and love the surprise of letting go, to be humble and love laughter, to be understanding and love the hearts of others under all their unloveable fears and failures and spikes.

Shall I betray all these whispering nudges of the Holy Spirit by throwing the rich words of my faith to a world that calls me only to produce and consume?

If you would like to know my dearest hopes for making a living and spending the bulk of my days, I will tell you that I want to be a professor of theology for undergraduates, and a writer of practical theology for anyone. I want to help others know and love God with their minds. My heart beats fuller when I watch others learn, and it sings when I write. I have learned this semester that the students I want so much to care for will frustrate, ignore, and disrespect me at times. But I have seen them get it, too, seen them assimilate new skills and formulate new thoughts and ask God new questions. That has been an amazing experience.

If I make it in the competitive professor profession, I will know this is the very special job for me. I certainly plan to continue doing my best to get there. But if I don’t make it, I’ll trust that there’s some other place I’m meant to make time for writing, teach and learn with others, invite them into my home, help us all figure out how to be. These are the gifts that call me out of myself. These are the activities I’m meant to prioritize. These are my vocations.

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