How do you make meaning from your work? Is it a job, career, or calling? For most of my life, I never thought about these differences. In their paper, Work as Worship, published in the book Faith & Work: Christian Perspectives, Research, and Insights Into the Movement (Edited by Timothy Ewest, Information Age Publishing Inc, Charlotte, NC, 2018, pages 60-61), Dr. Simone Meskelis and Dr. J. Lee Whittington (University of Dallas) explain these three different views on work.
Before graduating from engineering school, I viewed work as a job: “a means to obtaining the financial support. … For these people, work has only instrumental value.” I needed to work to buy food, transport, housing, and other basic needs. Work was a means to get through school.
During my senior year of college, I interviewed for professional work which would hopefully develop into a career: “actively seeking the rewards associated with advancement through an organization or occupational structure. The dominate focus of career-oriented individuals is the increased pay, prestige, and status that accompany promotions.” A career also has instrumental value.
But as I aged, my career lacked meaning. I made good money with generous benefits, had close working relationships, and was respected in my field of energy trading. But I started to ask questions, such as:
How is my faith related to my work?
Is my work meaningful?
This discernment leads to work as a calling. People who are called “believe that their work contributes to the greater good of not only their organization but society as a whole. These individuals do not work for financial rewards or for advancement, but for the fulfillment that doing the work brings.”
I admire individuals who feel called to work despite many sacrifices, such as lower pay, poor working conditions, or seemingly hopeless situations. “Calling involves helping others because of a strong sense of destiny or moral duty, and callings are also intrinsically valued.” I see this calling when I speak to undergraduate students at the liberal arts university where I serve on the Board of Trustees. When I ask about their major or what they want to do after graduating, their faces beam with joy about researching some fascinating subject or trying to solve complex problems that will elevate our community.
What I now understand is that God does the calling. This is the important link between faith (God initiating the call) and work (the individual accepting the call). The secular world argues that the calling is derived from within the individual based on their talents. But Christians believe that an individual’s talents come from God: we are made in the image of God and created by God. The intrinsic beauty of a calling is the linkage of the Caller with the called. This is an eternal relationship of joy, peace, and love. The benefits are self-actualization and love of neighbor. It is the kingdom of the Caller that Christians seek.