Last week I shared some off-the-cuff reflections on the origins of my own vocational journey (which is inextricably intertwined with Brian’s, thanks be to God.) I’m going to pick that thread back up in the coming weeks, share a variety of the stages of our journey - the good, bad, and the ugly as well as the priceless, costly treasures we’ve gained along the way.
Today, I’m opening up my digital file drawer stocked full of the best words. I want to share some of my all-time, make-my-heart-pump, give-me-hope-that-my-work-matters words from five of my favorite authors on the subject. This is in no way a comprehensive list on what’s been written (or even on all that I’ve read), but a healthy syllabus for anyone wanting to read more deeply on what it means that work is a good gift.
I’d love to hear your favorite words and titles on the subject of calling, vocation, and work. Leave me a comment below!
“The point of the resurrection…is that the present bodily life is not valueless just because it will die…What you do with your body in the present matters because God has a great future in store for it…What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself—will last into God's future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether (as the hymn so mistakenly puts it…). They are part of what we may call building for God's kingdom.”
I have been collecting images, lifting layers, switching between depths of field to catch glimpses of what's really going on here. How does work become more than what it is, and how do we become ourselves in the process? How do we find livelihood even as we are making it? How can an individual body of work contribute to a corporate body of work to participate in a universal, eternal, world-without-end body of work?"
- Nancy Nordenson, Finding Livelihood: A Progress of Work and Leisure
“Every faithful act of service, every honest labor to make the world a better place, which seemed to have been forever lost and forgotten in the rubble of history, will be seen on that day [at the final resurrection] to have contributed to the perfect fellowship of God's kingdom.... All who committed their work in faithfulness to God will be by Him raised up to share in the new age, and will find that their labor was not lost, but that it has found its place in the completed”
― Amy L. Sherman, Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good
“Good human work honors God's work. Good work uses no thing without respect, both for what it is in itself and for its origin. It uses neither tool nor material that it does not respect and that it does not love. It honors nature as a great mystery and power, as an indispensable teacher, and as the inescapable judge of all work of human hands. It does not dissociate life and work, or pleasure and work, or love and work, or usefulness and beauty. To work without pleasure or affection, to make a product that is not both useful and beautiful, is to dishonor God, nature, the thing that is made, and whomever it is made for. This is blasphemy: to make shoddy work of the work of God. But such blasphemy is not possible when the entire Creation is understood as holy and when the works of God are understood as embodying and thus revealing His spirit.”
-Wendell Berry, "Christianity and the Survival of Creation" in Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community
“Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess.”
. . .
“The human self also has a nature, limits as well as potentials. If you seek vocation without understanding the material you are working with, what you build with your life will be ungainly and may well put lives in peril, your own and some of those around you. 'Faking it' in the service of high values is no virtue and has nothing to do with vocation. It is an ignorant, sometimes arrogant, attempt to override one's nature, and it will always fail.”
. . .
“Vocation at its deepest level is, 'This is something I can't not do, for reasons I'm unable to explain to anyone else and don't fully understand myself but that are nonetheless compelling.”
. . .
“Some journeys are direct, and some are circuitous; some are heroic, and some are fearful and muddled. But every journey, honestly undertaken, stands a chance of taking us toward the place where our deep gladness meets the world's deep need.”
. . .
“Vocation does not come from willfulness. It comes from listening. I must listen to my life and try to understand what it is truly about-quite apart from what I would like it to be about-or my life will never represent anything real in the world, no matter how earnest my intentions.”
― Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation
Read previous posts in our Work Stories series here.
p.s. This post may contain affiliate links because I'm trying to be a good steward, and when you buy something through one of these links you don't pay more money, but in some magical twist of capitalism we get a little pocket change. Thanks!