By Claire Bischoff
What do you think are the world’s great hungers?
What brings you deep gladness?
At my high school, one day each year was set aside for “Vocations Day,” when priests, nuns, and brothers came to talk to our religion classes about their lives. I always listened politely, but since I was confident that I wanted to be married and have children one day, I figured “vocation” was just not for me.
Then I read something that changed my attitude about vocation. Discussing vocation, Frederick Buechner writes, “Neither the hair shirt or the soft birth will do. The place where God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”* Buechner’s definition of vocation means that it is not only the vowed religious who are called to fulfill their vocations. All of us have vocations, because each of us has deep gladness and the world always has needs that need to be met.
What I love about Buechner’s understanding of vocation is that it combines making a difference with being happy. In other words, it isn’t a true vocation if it does not address a true need in the world (thus, even if being a reality television star makes you happy, it is likely not your vocation). But it also is not a true vocation if you are miserable doing it (thus, even if you are making a huge difference in a community in Africa by helping build a school, if you do it without joy, it is likely not your true vocation).
The other thing I love about Buechner’s understanding of vocation is that it highlights how God calls everyone to some vocation—at any age, in any setting, with whatever abilities. My three-year-old son loves meeting new people and telling stories; his great grandmother lives in a nursing home where people have a great hunger to be treated as human beings worthy of personable interaction. Even at his young age, God is calling him to a vocation of visiting the elderly, which brightens both his day and the days of those with whom he interacts. If my three-year-old son has a vocation, then I am fairly certain we all have one.
And we do not need to look half way around the world to find it. We need to look at ourselves in order to discern what truly brings us deep gladness. And we need to look at the relationships and settings in which we find ourselves in order to discern what is really needed there. God could be calling you to address a need in your family, in your school, in your church, or in your neighborhood.
In this week’s Gospel (Matthew 25:14-30), Jesus tells a parable about a man going on a journey who gives gold talents (coins) to his three servants. The servants who receive five and three talents, respectively, invest them and thus have a profit to give the master when he returns from his travels. The third servant, who believes his master is a harsh man, hides his one talent in the ground and thus has no profit to give the master when he returns.
The question at the heart of this parable is, “What does God ask of us?” If we listen to Frederick Buechner, we can be certain God is asking something of each of us. God is asking us to invest our talents, to use our skills, and to apply our personalities in order to meet the needs of those around us.
So what is your vocation?
*Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC, page 95.