Is there a difference between a career and a calling? What does it mean to have a vocation? I’ve recently been reminded of a Bible reading from several years ago which has caused me to think about these questions in the light of my current situation.
The reading was based on 1 Corinthians 15:58, ‘Give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord … because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.’ and Acts 20:24, ‘My life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord.’. It focused upon obeying the call of God on our lives.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word ‘vocation’ as ‘A strong feeling of suitability for a particular career or occupation. A person’s employment or main occupation especially regarded as worthy and requiring dedication’. The word originates from the Latin ‘vocare’, which means ‘to call’.
If we are living for the Lord then all of life is a calling, including but not restricted to our work. We are called to serve the Lord and give ourselves fully in whatever sphere of life he places us, whether that be in employment, family life, community work and friendships. For a Christian, our career forms part of that calling if we do it for the Lord, and that could then be described as our vocation.
I am very fortunate as I’ve had a career which I thoroughly enjoyed, working in libraries and literacy services. I had always felt that my career was a calling and that the Lord led me each step of the way. It fitted my particular blend of skills and temperaments perfectly, and I believe I did make a difference, particularly when I worked in some of the more deprived areas of Middlesbrough. I wouldn’t have described it as a vocation at the time as my understanding of a vocation was that it related specifically to caring or religious occupations but, reading the dictionary definition, it does accurately describe how I viewed my work.
However, it felt like it came to an end abruptly when my job became redundant five years ago, causing me to consider the above questions. As my career in libraries came to an end, I sensed a new and different call on my life, to be part of Halesworth Community Church and serve by building the website and developing it as a resource, a role I soon discovered used and extended my library skills. This sense of calling was confirmed by the above verses from scripture. Although initially I missed my previous career and hankered to go back to work at times, I feel I have grown into the role that the Lord has called me to, and I love the work I do in the church. Just over a year ago, I returned to work in libraries, working as a relief member of staff for Suffolk Libraries. At the time, it felt like a hobby I got paid for and working a couple of days a week on average fitted comfortably around the church work. Sadly, the manager of Halesworth library passed away suddenly in January, and I was asked to work additional hours to cover, which I have gladly done for the past four months. Recently I have had to consider whether God is calling me back into full-time library work and how much time I should invest in the work. It would be easy to conclude that this is God’s will, on the surface it appears to be a perfect fit, and it has been suggested to me that it is, yet that doesn’t feel right. I have thought and prayed long and hard about the decision and talked it through with trusted friends as I desperately want to be obedient to the Lord’s leading and have concluded that my calling is still to the church, with part-time library work as an extra. I was very encouraged on Sunday when during the worship in church I had a picture of my life as a bar chart with different segments representing different areas of life. Although the size of the segments was not fixed as life is fluid and changes, the segment that represented the call to work in the church was consistently the highest. It confirmed to me that God’s call on my life is a rich tapestry, including work, family, friendships etc., but that, for me at this point in life, the call to be part of this church is foremost.