A little over 40 years ago, I was in my senior year of engineering school and starting to interview for a job. Campus recruiters came to my university and scheduled 1-hour interviews with job-seeking students. I would get up early and walk to the career center to sign-up for interviews as the system was first-come, first-choice for interview time slots. I would later research the interviewing companies and dress in a suit-and-tie for my campus interviews. If I was fortunate, I would receive an invitation to visit the company for day-long interviews.
I was interviewing primarily with energy companies and the price of hydrocarbons was at record highs. Companies needed engineers and I was fortunate to receive numerous offers. I felt excited about my future after four long years studying engineering.
Dr. Daniel M. Doriani, Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology at Covenant Theological Seminary, recently published a book titled Work: Its Purpose, Dignity, and Transformation (P&R Publishing, Phillipsburg, NJ, 2019). He describes a common Christian message. “When you seek God’s call, look for a match between the internal call (what you want to do) and the external call (what an employer is willing to hire you to do). When both come together, you have a call; otherwise you have an aspiration. The standard secular message, which Christians often embrace, says, ‘Follow your passion.’ If that fails, gain strategic, well-paid skills.” (pages 95-96)
My ‘call’ was to match my abilities in math and science with a well-paid career in energy. I plowed through four years of incredibly difficult technical studies for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Over the subsequent working years, I have learned that this approach was utilitarian and self-centered. I did not think about serving the common good, although my career path benefited my community. Success was more centered on my personal well-being and gaining higher levels of authority. My focus was inward rather than balancing self-actualization with community. I served the corporation as long as the corporation gave me a pathway to success, defined as wealth and advancement. Over time, this path proved not to satisfy my growing need to glorify God through my work.
Dr. Doriani proposes a 7-step model that “depicts the way skills emerge and callings arrive:”
- Core ability and interest.
- Desire to develop ability.
- Early practice, seeking experience, mentors. Desire deepens.
- Positive early experience.
- Capacity noted, leading to additional training, experience.
- Entry into regular work.
- Growth through practice, experience.
But there are more questions to ask during your developmental period. “Do I have a desire and ability that lets me meet a need? Remedy a deficit? In a setting that leads to employment? … Which people will I serve? Where will I serve?” (pages 98-99) I should have asked the last two questions: who and where am I serving? Is my service for the common good? Are my God-given gifts glorifying God and showing love to my neighbor?
A week ago, our church celebrated our graduating high school seniors. Some seniors spoke about their future university studies, vocational goals, and fond remembrances of their time growing up in our church. I remembered my high school graduation Sunday at my church over 40 years ago. I had the same happy expressions and remembrances. I desired to leave the salty sea breezes of Corpus Christi for the dry, cool Colorado mountains. New experiences awaited me along with fewer parental controls.
Looking back at this transformative period, the church of my youth should have mentored their high school students on the theology of work and vocations, at least at a high school comprehension level. We spent most of our time in fun youth activities that bonded us as a community but was not balanced with theological truths. Perhaps I would not have listened and just trusted only my instincts. Over the succeeding years, the Holy Spirit finally opened my eyes to the expansive, Christian meaning of vocation. My hope is that the younger generations will learn it far earlier and ask more questions than I did during my formative years.