For how many of us do questions of who we are and what we do have ultimately the same answer? How many of us get to be who we are in the daily-ness of that which we do for a living? To put it another way…for how many of us is our vocation–our true calling–the same set of gifts for which we receive a paycheck?
Some fields readily imply that one followed a calling and a set of gifts to find themselves there: doctors, nurses, mental healthcare providers; teachers, counselors, social workers; pastors and non-profit directors; the list goes on.
But for a greater range of jobs, we expect that people must somehow seperate their deeper sense of purpose and meaning from the drugery of what we call “work” each day. And while mind-numbing and soul-crushing work does exist in the world, I think that far more of us than we realize have somehow found ways to be very “us” in the course of a working life, learning how to use our best gifts in an unrelated field.
I have found that the same gifts I need in the daily life of a pastor also came in handy when I was waiting tables, teaching dance classes, serving as a sorority rush chair, and even working in the catering office of a large hotel. My daily rounds delivering BP’s (banquet prospectus, for you who don’t speak hospitality management) almost always found me in a conversation that had nothing to do with the day’s work. I talked (or listened) co-workers through family crises, career changes, relationship drama, and…well, one crazy woman who was certain she’d been possessed of a demon. (Incidentally, that’s where i learned to put on my “pastor face.” You know, the one that listens sympathetically while hiding the raging “THIS WOMAN IS PSYCHO!” that’s really going on in your head…)
It didn’t make me a great assistant–I got in trouble more than once for taking an hour to do what should have taken 20 minutes. But somehow, in that $9/hour job, I found my way into the church, the pulpit, and the lives of regular (and not so regular) people. Regular people who are tremendously gifted, and find endless ways to be who they are in the midst of what they do.
It works the other way, too. Most folks in so-called “called” professions harbor secret fantasy escape jobs; things that we think would be more fun and less stressful than having to be who we are all the time. I’ll share mine–I’ve got two, actually. My run-away jobs are hair-dresser and park ranger. Now, i have no reason to believe I’d be any good at either of these. Ask my best friend Nicole, who once unwisely let me cut her hair (and more than once let me dye it). Ask my husband, with whom I go camping and hiking–when conditions are perfect and within my control, and he has provided for my comfort by chilling the beer, blowing up the air mattress and starting a fire.
Still, there you have it. On a stressful day, that’s where my daydreams take me. Places where I’ve somehow contrived to escape who I am long enough to just “do” something. And yet…and yet, even as I stand behind that salon chair (in cute but comfortable shoes) I am helping the owner of the head before me become somebody new. And when the owner of that head opens her mouth, she is almost always asking for advice, or sharing a confidence, or wondering aloud about the direction of her life. And, always, I answer. It’s who I am.
And there, in a tiny ranger booth in farthest flung Montana, a family pulls up to the window and pays me their $20 entrance fee. I welcome them, hand them a map, and tell them how to go about enjoying the wilderness. Feels alot like Sunday morning, really…
All this is to say that in the life of faith, who we are is never far from what we do. If we seek to live daily in the presence of the holy, and live graciously into the gifts we’ve been given, we’ll find that the Spirit opens doors all around us to be who we are. When who we are is people of faith, it is our sacred calling to be who we are, at all times, and in every place. All good gifts return to the giver, whether we get paid for their use or not. Our greatest joy is in finding — whether our daily work is in factory, office, home or the great outdoors– that we cannot escape the “who” God meant for us to be.