Working out God's Will
As I travel to various parts of the world, I am struck by a fascinating juxtaposition between parents and children when it comes to the subject of employment—no matter the cultural context in which I find myself. Many parents would like their children, or the person their daughter or son marries, to be involved in a financially lucrative profession, while their children are often aspiring to do work that is meaningful and impactful. Generalizations are dangerous at the best of times, but this divide between well-meaning mothers and fathers and their offspring raises many questions about work.
In contrast, as a 1960s adolescent, I bought into the lucrative profession mindset by selecting employment that would provide me with financial security. The Victoria Park Secondary School yearbook announced it to the world—I was going to be a lawyer. There was nothing particularly virtuous about the choice. I assumed, inaccurately, that all lawyers make massive amounts of money and I was going to be a joyful participant. In the end I never went to law school, but looking back I realize that many of us make early vocational choices that reflect immaturity, inexperience, and questionable motivations. I am thankful to God that his providential will often works beyond our inadequate motivations and moves us into vocations that are a surprise, even to us.
As an undergraduate student who was interested in people, relationships, literature, criminology, counselling, and theology, I found myself looking for clarity in my vocational aspirations. I wanted God to tell me, show me, and make it perfectly clear what I was going to do with my life. As part of the discernment process, I read Hebrews 11 every day for the better part of a year with verse 8 always reaching out and grabbing me:
By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.
Inadvertently, I assumed that God’s leading in my profession would bring clarity, even specificity, and that faith was synonymous with certainty and the absence of ambiguity. I am thankful to God that his providential will often works in such a way that he leads us, vocationally, one small step at a time and we really do not know where we are going.
When you reach your seventh decade and look back over your work life, as well as that of others, you start to see some patterns and themes that you couldn’t see at that time. My work life started at the age of eleven, selling TV guides door to door. From there I became a golf caddy at a very exclusive country club and then graduated to become a factory worker in a dairy. Work as a psychologist in secular clinics, hospitals, and counselling agencies was followed by involvement in Christian counselling agencies and a private practice. Concurrently, I began teaching in Christian institutions while working part time in church roles and then left the academic world to serve as a full-time pastor. For the past fourteen years, I have served in an administrative and teaching capacity at Regent College and I look forward to see what is in store as my third, and final, five-year term ends in August 2015.
This varied work history has taught me—a former money-crazed, aspiring lawyer—lessons that could not have been learned without a lifetime of employment. Little did I know that issues and pressures in the secular marketplace, the church, and Christian organizations are quite similar. I had no idea that there was not necessarily a linear relationship between satisfaction and salary. While I have moved in middle and upper middle class circles of people and jobs most of my life, I now accord the factory worker much more virtue and value than I did when I worked in the dairy. And I would never have known in my preadolescent naiveté that the four cents a copy that I earned for each TV guide would teach me lessons about money, work, tithing, value, and dignity that were applicable to every other job. I am thankful to God that his providential will often works in such a way that he teaches us lessons about work that we only learn after the fact.
As a baby boomer, I did not grow up in a culture where the parent-child tension around money and meaning was as poignant. However, one thing I do know: God’s providential will about work transcends culture and generational sensibility, and if we are willing to listen, he will continue to speak.