Walk up to any five year old and they know what they want to be when they grow up. Whether a firefighter, astronaut, doctor, princess or Indiana Jones, dreaming about what you will be one day is fun. When I was three I would have told you I wanted to be a cat when I grew up. This was succeeded by artist, waitress (because who didn’t want to be as cool as the twenty-somethings at Applebees?), veterinarian, teacher, up until high school when “what do you want to be when you grow up” became a serious question.
When you’re a child, the concept of vocation is a pasttime. Beginning in adolescence and culminating in adulthood vocation becomes a category every person is set into. Vocation defines you. Granted, students can allow school to define them but this is different because education is ultimately focused on preparing and cultivating the mind for the next stage in life. Indeed, maybe more than any other question, “what will you be when you grow up” follows you through every season of life.
How do we determine our vocation? Usually by asking what our passions or inherent talents are — with the presupposition that there will be one ultimate occupation of one’s time that will make you into a valued person and satisfy you infinitely. Doesn’t that sound like something else we talk about at the Medici Project from time to time? Since when was it a good idea to center your existence around a concept that ultimately relies heavily on your own tenacity and attitude? This is not what work should be.
Timothy Keller wrote about this eloquently in his book Every Good Endeavor. Work was never meant to be something that we were enslaved to, avoided or endured. In the first section of his book, Keller goes back to what is commonly called the “cultural mandate” in Genesis. By looking through this passage Keller explains that work was meant to be a way that God displayed his character through his creation. We were meant to be agents of cultivation on earth. However, when the Fall occurred, man’s betrayal of God didn’t simply ruin our relationship with him, it also affected the way we view work.
In the second section of his book, Keller specifically discusses some of the ways we now view work in a broken way. So frequently our views of work are not just incorrect but they are harmful to us. Work can quickly become pointless, fruitless and ultimately is self-focused – the ultimate idol.
All of these points resonated with me in my search to find a vocation and, happily, Keller doesn’t stop by revealing the ways work has been broken. Instead he goes on to reveal how work can be redeemed and what it could mean for you to live out the gospel wholeheartedly through your work even beyond the original cultural mandate.
For me, that was the most helpful concept and a theme carried throughout the book. After I graduated from high school, I went into college with no idea what I wanted to do. I had spent the last year of high school studying worldview, apologetics, ethics, and philosophy. As helpful as it was in other ways, it completely deconstructed what I had thought of as vocation. I had been educated on many of the problems in the world and inferred that the only ways I could live out the gospel in a meaningful way was to meet a problem head-on. So, it seemed I had to either become a politician, an activist, a missionary, or a pastor.
I think I could have done these if I’d chosen to; even now, I’m not sure what I want to be, so I still could. However, I no longer believe these are the only ways to change the world I see to be so desperately broken. There have been several blog posts on this site that have described what it means to live faithfully, doing small things in great ways. In the book Keller tells stories of marketing professionals, bankers, CEOs, and a variety of other professionals who simply seek to serve God and do what they feel led is right every day. This is how they are faithful to their jobs.
After reading this book, more than anything, I understand that no matter what I end up doing, I am able to display the character of God and the gospel simply by loving and caring for whatever has been placed before me. Right now I’m not a CEO, or a stockbroker. In the future I could have a career but, for now, living out a redeemed view of work might be doing the best I’m able during my internship, enjoying the relationships I feel too lucky to have, learning, and trying to do the right thing when I have to make a decision. Timothy Keller illustrates so well that no matter what I do, I can be serving God wholeheartedly. I highly recommend you pick up his book Every Good Endeavor.