Vocational Frontiers

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A friend of mine recently came by to see me, and from her first few words I could tell something was wrong. “I have bad news,” she said. I leaned in close. “My job is on the table,” she said, “and likely will be eliminated in the next few months.”

Her job, well placed within a regional organization, had seemed impervious to the rounds of budget cuts and layoffs that had wiped out lesser positions. I knew she wasn’t coming by to see if I would advocate on her behalf with the team in the upstairs corner offices. She was calling on me for vocational clues and maybe a word of encouragement.

“How are you preparing spiritually for this change?” I asked.

“I guess I’ll pray a lot.”

My friend is not altogether young. Chances are slim that she will find another full-time job that will engage her at the level which she has enjoyed.

I guess I’ll pray a lot. This is not an uncommon response, but what does it mean? Embedded in the urge to pray lies the vocational challenge. No matter what the circumstance that urges us to pray, nestled somewhere within is God’s invitation to step decisively and trustingly into what we do not yet understand.

It matters very much, both spiritually and vocationally, how we pray at life’s crisis points, and how we pray through our not-knowing. For some, “praying a lot” results in the amplification of worry through the multiplication of words.

When you pray from a place of worry, you magnify the worry. When you pray from a place of trust, you magnify the Lord, and give God space in your life to be, well, GOD.

My friend described all the things certain to fall apart with her job loss. I listened, and sat silent for a moment.

“Well, what should I do?” she asked, devoured by desperation. I sat silent for another moment. Did she want employment or career advice? I’m not really qualified to give that. Or financial advice? Ha! I could use some of that myself! Any answer I could offer would have to come from the Holy Spirit who knows what she needs far better than I do.

And then the words burst forth from my mouth. “Eat the Gospels!” I said. “Eat the Gospels! Eat the life and the teachings of Jesus. Eat them with feverish hunger. Eat his mission, his works, his teachings, his passion. Eat straight through to his anguish, his wrestlings, his unjust conviction, his public execution, his death and resurrection. Eat the words of the Gospels.”

She looked at me wide eyed, as though she were receiving a revelation.

When life is going well it is easy to live vocationally distant from the raw edge of the “word of God, sharper than any two-edged sword.” But this divine raw edge is precisely the front edge of our lives, where life as we know it encounters its vocational frontier, the place where God’s invitation calls us beyond ourselves.

If we were utterly honest about God’s calling, we would acknowledge that we have no hope of vocational clarity apart from the Gospels, nor apart from that rhythm of dying and receiving new life which we call the paschal mystery. Every one of us will be challenged in our lifetime in some way, and more likely in many ways. Each time it will feel unique and painfully personal.

And that’s precisely the point. God continually invites us beyond our known quarters into a larger life, the life which uniquely has our name on it, the life which God has had in mind for all eternity. The vocational life is far from neat and tidy, seldom delivered to us in some lovely and perfect package. The vocational life more likely emerges from the raw wet unshapen clay of our incompleteness and the enduring promise of the Holy Spirit.

Copyright 2012 Mary Sharon Moore, M.T.S.

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