I am researching God’s involvement in workers’ choice of vocations. Many people refer to this as a calling, although this term is used more often in reference to ministerial vocations than secular. My topical question is: does God call workers to vocations and if so, how?
For many years, I have listened to National Public Radio (NPR) while driving. I enjoy their in-depth reporting and professionalism. One of their popular segments is StoryCorps where ordinary people interview each other. These short recordings tell the story of everyday people living everyday lives in America. Over 65,000 conversations have been recorded in StoryCorps booths across America.
In Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work (Dave Isay, Penguin Books, New York, NY, 2017), Dave Isay, founder of StoryCorps, edits and publishes 53 conversations on callings. In his introduction, he quotes Studs Terkel, an oral historian: “Work … is about the search ‘for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.’” (page 3). Isay’s book is secular and God rarely appears in its 260 pages. I selected this book to read about everyday vocational decisions and experiences. It is not that God was absent, just rarely mentioned by name.
For some, like Storm Reyes, work was providing the basic requirements for life: “When you are grinding day after day after day, there’s nothing to aspire to except filling your hungry belly. You may walk down the street and see a row of nice, clean houses, but you never, ever dream you can live in one. You don’t dream. You don’t hope.” (page 40) Storm Reyes discovered a bookmobile where books opened her life to a world outside of poverty and she became a library assistant.
For others, it was recognizing their gifts. Actor Ricardo Pitts-Wiley had insecurity about his ability: “Why didn’t I get all the gifts? Why can’t I sing? Why can’t I do certain things better? But then I started to realize that you only get a portion of the gift, and if you’re patient, the rest of it will come.” (page 95) His son was most proud of Ricardo’s decision to be a dad.
For public defender Vito de la Cruz, it was grit in the face of massive obstacles as a migrant worker: “If there’s one thing that my nena [aunt who raised him] gave me, it was a desire to learn and to succeed in school. Against all odds, she was the first in our family – of either gender – to graduate from high school and eventually from college. And I ended up going from San Benito, Texas, to Yale, which was a culture shock to the extreme. I went from an environment where we were essentially surviving below the poverty line, to where our entire family could probably have existed for a month on all the food that was thrown away in just one dining hall at Yale.” (page 155)
Policewoman Pat Hays connected her work with service: “It wasn’t all adversity or I would have been really stupid to have kept that job. It’s kind of a calling. I really enjoyed helping people. I would have done it forever.” (page 161)
Eighth-grade science teacher Al Siedlecki saw talent in his student who eventually became a neurosurgeon: “You have a gift, and that day I wanted to make sure you knew I absolutely recognized it.” (page 180) It was a child who most clearly saw her mother’s calling as an oncology nurse: “I really think God wanted you to be what you are, because you’re awesome at it. To me, you are maybe an angel on earth; you come down and try your best to heal people.” (page 113)
These people are using their God-given gifts to take our community a step closer to the kingdom. Amen!