very difficult to plan a career in the midst of economic turmoil, when you're calculating starting
pay against your debts, and you don’t even know if the job you're preparing for is going to be there when you graduate. In the beginning of our
careers, it becomes particularly important to ask, what did God have in mind when God was knitting us together? What is our vocation?
Once you finally get
a job, then you need to get a “real” job. Then you can expect laid-off at least
once in your career. Then you have to re-tool and enter the workforce again. Then
even if you get your “dream” job, you might come to the realization that you’re
destroying your family and your personal life, and the dream becomes a bit of a nightmare. Then you begin to realign all your goals. Then you begin to
look toward retirement, and you begin to imagine what your vocation is going to
be when you retire.
In other words, the question of
vocation is something that most of us struggle with all of our lives. And at
each point, we hear voices calling us.
There is the voice of the brazen
careerist. The person who is calculated about each and every social event she
attends, each position she takes, and every lunch she schedules. She has one
thing in mind—her personal success.
You will be her friend as long as
she can use you for something. For the brazen careerist, money may not be as
important as prestige and power, although they often go hand-in-hand. Even if
she is not making money, she looks like she is. Everything becomes a
steppingstone for her success. In fact, she will even give up her own integrity
to ensure her opportunities.
Then there is the voice of greed. This is the person who whispers to us that “bigger is always better.” That is the voice of unfettered capitalism that
tells us that the bottom line is the only thing that matters. It is a call to
consumption that drives us not only to consume the material things around us,
but eventually, it will call us to consume the people around us.
It is the voice that tells us to
lay off employees, because the fear of the remaining employees will fuel them to work harder. So we can get more productivity with less workers. It
is the lie that says that laying off employees is the same thing as creating
jobs. It is the drive that can look at sweatshops and say, “It’s not so bad. Actually,
we’re making people’s lives better.”
I often work with people at the
other end of the spectrum: those who listen to the voice of the idealists. They are people who are so committed
to working for the good that they never count the costs.
I’ve often seen idealist women who
work their fingers to the nubs, fighting for the injustice of women around the
world. And they will do it at an organization where they are getting paid one
quarter of the man sitting next to them. They are so committed to their ideals
that they do not think about the practical reality of their situation.
I’ve seen idealists who will let
themselves and their families go into extremely difficult situations for "the cause." Or they go into financial distress because they want just the “right job.” Working in retail, construction, or the
service industry isn’t good enough. So they wait until the ideal job comes
In all of this, it’s important to
listen to the best of our Christian tradition. We need to think about what God
has called us to in our work. This cannot solely be the job of a high school guidance
counselor any more. This is no longer a discussion for one individual to have with another individual. It needs
to be a conversation and an undertaking in which we all take part--as a society and especially as the church. We need to
be speaking loudly, calling out a vocation of wholeness, and drowning out the toxic voices that surround us.
We need to be speaking to the
brazen careerist, and telling her that having a drive to succeed is extremely
important. We need to affirm that, especially in women. But we also need to remind her that she does not have to give up her integrity or her
relationships in order to do it. Because at the end of the day, our integrity
and our relationships--the fruits of our love of God and our love of neighbors--these are the things that matter the most. We can remind the careerist of
the need for Sabbath. Of taking a day off. Just one day when we do not jump at every
command of our email inbox.
We need to be speaking to the voice
of greed. This voice is loud out there. It is the one that starts marketing to
our children before they can talk. It is the one that creates longings in us
that we never knew we had. It is the one that reminds us of how poor we are.
We can replace it with a voice of
“enough.” We can tell it that we are learning disciplines so that we might
understand that Jesus came so that we might have abundant life—not a life of
constant, perpetual, manufactured longing for stuff.
There is a point where we can make
enough. We can have enough. My generation, and those who are younger than
I am, we know that we will not be as well off as our parents. And it’s not
un-American to understand that reality, because when we can talk back to the
voice of greed, we will know that we have enough. And when we have enough, then
there will be enough for all of us.
We can talk back to the voice that
says that working with our hands no longer has dignity or value—the lie that
keeps sweatshops productive around the world and heightens the abuse of immigrants in our own country. Because our Scriptures tell us in Thessalonians, to “live a quiet life… and work with your hands.”
We can talk
back to that voice that says the work of our hands has no dignity as we learn to rip up our yards and green spaces and plant gardens. We can
talk back as we encourage our children to become plumbers, car mechanics, and
carpenters. We can affirm our need to labor and sweat and know that, at the end
of the day, we have produced something and we have done well.
We can talk back to the lie that
says that the global economy should open up new ways for us to exploit another,
with the truth that the Samaritan is our neighbor, and we are called to love
We can talk back to the lie that
says if we are having difficulties, we should turn to our high-interest credit
cards instead of our families. We can talk back to the lie that says if a parent allows their adult son or daughter to live in one of
their three empty bedrooms as they work themselves out of debt then those parents must be overly-indulgent.
And we can talk back to the lie
that says that our only purpose in life is tied up with our nine to five job. That our value as humans are somehow only tied to our employment and careers. Our work is much, much more than that.
The most profound American
theologian on this issue is Martin Luther King, Jr. He said that “work is love
Work is love made visible. As we celebrate the courage of King this weekend, may we speak that truth to all of our
careerism and all of our greed. May it be the standard by which we measure all of our
Because that is why God knit us together—it is for love made