One of the first things we ask people when we meet them is ‘What do you do?’ Usually what we mean by that is what job they do. Jobs take up a large part of our lives for many years and are often a neat box into which we can fit people. You can tell a lot about a person, we reason, from the job they do.

I am increasingly frustrated, however, by our culture’s obsession with putting people into boxes and also by this assumption that any job, or anything we do for that matter, is the thing that defines us. More and more I believe that who we are is the thing that defines us, not what we do. And more and more I believe that what we do for the vast majority of our adult waking hours is not simply a job but is actually a vocation.

A job is an assignment to do work that can be quantified and evaluated and measured. It’s usually fairly easy to see if a job has been done or not; it can even be easy to see if the job has been done well or badly. But a vocation is not a job in that sense, although often it will involve doing specific tasks. A vocation is a calling, a sense of the divine in the mundane. I believe all of us should live life with that sense of calling and divine guidance.

Most of us, however, prefer the job description to the idea of calling, because at heart it is easier to live under law than under grace. Do not misunderstand me: it is not better to live that way, nor is it more fulfilling. But it is a lot easier to have a ‘to do’ list that can be neatly ticked off at the end of a day than it is to wrestle with the question ‘what have I actually achieved today in the things I’ve done?’ It’s easier to list all the dishes we’ve washed or the shelves we’ve stacked or the books we’ve marked or the number of plants we’ve tended than it is to know if we have responded to the nudge of God to spend time listening to a colleague’s woes or helped someone through our fellowship. Jobs are visible and it is easy to see if we have done them or not. Calling is invisible and not at all easy to evaluate.

I have been meditating on this for weeks, especially in the light of considering my vocation as a teacher and seeing this shift as God closes some doors and opens others. The workshop ‘Imagine Church’ clarified my long-held view that all Christians need to see their work as vocation; it is not helpful to have any kind of sacred/ secular divide in our thinking, for God is over all and in all. As I have been reading Eugene Peterson’s memoir ‘The Pastor’ this week, I was relieved (and pleased) to see that this tension between jobs and vocation is something he has also faced. “How do I keep the immediacy and authority of God’s call in my ears when an entire culture, both secular and ecclesial, is giving me a job description? How do I keep the calling, the vocation, of pastor from being drowned out by job descriptions, gussied up in glossy challenges and visions and strategies, clamoring [sic] incessantly for my attention?” (Eugene Peterson, ‘The Pastor’ P 165)

Job descriptions are easy to write. It can be a useful thing to do, to evaluate what you actually do in the course of a day and to see that with fresh eyes. I have been helping Florentine to adjust to her new job as a French teacher and that is an eye-opener, for so much of what I took for granted about the job is new to her and she is having to adjust to its demands slowly. But no job description can ever truly summarise our calling and it cannot be allowed to define us. We are so much more than the sum of all we do. Don’t let the mundane drown out the Voice calling daily to take up His cross and follow Him; don’t focus on what you do more than on the daily challenge to become more like Christ.