For a little over two years now, we have been studying how college students understand the word vocation and teaching classes on vocation formation within the context of liberal arts education.
And what we’ve found is that if you ask every student on our campus how they understand the word vocation, you will get as many different responses. The seemingly similar threads, though, are that the word vocation ties together ideas of work, passion and God’s will while creating either a simplistic reduction of the word or overwhelming anxiety and paralysis.
In both scenarios, the richness of the word is diminished and faithful living in one’s present days is left out. So what do we actually mean when we talk about vocation and what is it that we hope in the vocation formation of our students?
We found the following to be helpful as a framework to the conversation of vocation:
Vocation, derived from the Latin (‘to call’) assumes that there is a caller (God). And God, in His desire to engage His creation, calls us to faithfulness
Vocation includes, but transcends work.
Vocation is a faithful trajectory, not a destination.
Vocation is both present tense and future tense.
This framework then allows us to explore what it looks like to live faithful in what we understand to be different dimensions of vocation: Spiritual Practices, Church, Family, Community, Work and the Common Good.
Within this framework and understanding of dimensions, vocation then encompasses that which we are called to in the whole of our lives. It is both a general call to know God and to work towards restoration in all sectors of our world as well as a specific call to know and use our gifts and talents within our differing contexts and experiences. It is the living out of faith between Genesis 1-2 (what God intended) and Revelation 21-22 (what he has promised). It is the work of both the Church and individuals.
To live with an understanding of vocation requires a heart open to seeing and responding. It evokes a deep sense of responsibility to live faithfully in all sectors and seasons of our lives. Within the range of our relationships and responsibilities in this broken world, vocation is often not as clear as we would like. When it is clear, it is often not as easy as we hoped. Vocation, when understood within a proper theology of God though, is a beautiful reminder of God’s work in the world through us, a connection of humans to God’s larger story and the hope to which we have been called.
Vocation is not the same as occupation, though when the two overlap—whether for short or long seasons—it is indeed a blessing. More often than not, vocation is waking up each day and taking one more restorative step forward in our relationships, community, work, church and, ultimately, towards God.