Many parents carry within our hearts—sometimes in a cramped and even despairing corner—a vision of what we hope our children will become. This vision lives deeper than our wish that they be doctors or NFL quarterbacks, deeper even than our desire for their happiness. Our heart-dwelling hope is that they will be good and true, that they will be courageous, that they will love others more than themselves. We want them to join that rare tribe whose members any of us recognizes when he meets them, because they exude the love and strength of spirit we wish we carried more fully within ourselves.
Do you ever worry that by encouraging your children to live truly, you are sending them into great hardship? I’m not talking about martyrdom, mind you (for who among us, if he’s being truthful, wants his child to come to such an end?). I don’t even think I’m talking about living some kind of separated, saintly life.
I’m simply (and here it would be a mistake to conflate simple with easy) talking about the meaningful lives many of us want for our children—lives in which “vocation” is restored to the meaning it harbored before it was sundered by the sacred/secular wedge, broken to the plow of utilitarian industrialism, and neutered in this age of social fragmentation. A vocation which is a calling, meaning it is more than just laboring for coin, or to fulfill obligation, or—perhaps worst of all—to earn someone’s approval.
It is doing, in other words, that which you were crafted to do, which always is a form of creation or redemption, of remaking or restoring or healing, because the best part of you still shines with the image and likeness of God. You were crafted to do it, and so you feel great joy when you are in the midst of it. “The place God calls you to,” writes Frederick Buechner, “is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
Preparing our children for calling, then, is teaching them to recognize the difference between joy and titillation, between mindfulness and distraction. Because the world is fallen, it is teaching them how to forestall pleasure and endure labor long enough to realize the sublime sense of rightness, of co-creation, that comes with pouring oneself into good and worthwhile work. It is teaching them to recognize the “deep gladness” that resides within their Creator and, as a consequence, within themselves.
This differs so very much from the preoccupation shared by many of we parents and teachers, which is preparing our children to contribute to the Gross Domestic Product and the tax base, to be good citizens who obey their superiors and—if they are clever and lucky—become superiors themselves. We’ve even perverted the word; “vocation” now means that which earns wages. All else is a negation, an “avocation.” It is what remains after the real work is done.
Surely we are crafted to be parents, caregivers, lovers, and defenders just as we carry within us propensities to be competent plumbers, teachers, chefs, and taxi drivers. If vocation is calling, then a calling may or may not draw a paycheck. It may or may not pay the bills.
We want our children to be called into good and true lives, and we hope they can pay the bills that merit paying, and avoid the ones that needn’t be incurred when one is living a life of deep gladness. We want this for them because we love them, and because many of us feel as if we have let it slip from our own fingers.
But what is the cost of a calling, especially in an age when everyone is talking, and nobody seems inclined to listen?
I set out to write just a few words about this, and I am failing at the task. I have words but you have responsibilities, and so the best thing is for me to sort out these thoughts a few sentences at a time. All of which means I’ll say a bit more about this in coming posts.