Vocational Questions

In the process of discerning your vocation? Well, in an effort to aid your deliberations, I’d like to offer some suggestions for your reflection. I once came across a thoughtful set of questions from Cornelius Plantinga Jr. that means to prod your thinking on the topic. It comes from Engaging God’s World, (Eerdmans, 2002), 116. I thought I’d adapt it some and offer it here for anyone looking for a place to start. Now I don’t expect you to answer all of these questions, just that maybe one would introduce a consideration you hadn’t yet thought to entertain.

So here they are. Six questions to ask yourself when discerning your vocation.

  1. Would you enjoy and respect the work to the extent that you could offer your best efforts on a regular and long-term basis?
  2. Do you have a talent for the work that leads you to believe you would succeed at its practice?
  3. Is there a need for the work? Is there a shortage of workers?
  4. How honest is the work you’re fixing to do?
  5. With whom would you work? With corrupting or sanctifying influences?
  6. Does the work fit into your preexisting web of responsibilities, i.e., to your parents, spouse, children, siblings, friends, church, etc.?

P.S. from Gilbert Meilaender

Do you want to know what is your vocation? Then the first question to ask is not, “What do I want to do with my life?” It is not as if I first come to know myself and then choose a vocation that fulfills and satisfies me. For it is only by hearing and answering the divine summons, by participating in my calling, that I can come to know who I am. We are not who we think we are; we are who God calls us to be.

from “The Divine Summons,” in The Freedom of a Christian (Brazos, 2006)

Gilbert Meilaender on work

Gilbert Meilaender on work

By undergirding the dignity of irksome work in powerful religious language, we may too easily be invited to overlook just how hard and unsatisfying much toil is. We may recommend such work as service to the neighbor or, even, as spiritual discipline, but we should be careful lest this religious language lead us to ignore the empirical realities of the work many people do.

from Working: Its Meaning and Its Limits (Ethics of Everyday Life), (U of Notre Dame, 2000)

Gilbert Meilaender’s Augustinian politics

Gilbert Meilaender’s Augustinian politics

We look to politics for the satisfaction of so many of our desires; yet, thinking with Augustine should remind us that the deepest longings of the restless human heart can never be stilled by any good that politics provides. And because this is true, because even our most powerful institutions cannot redeem the brokenness of human life, we would be foolish to set aside the claims of duty in vain attempts to produce the good results we desire. […]

Perhaps the most important lesson this analysis can teach us is that our actual communities — which are simply a swaying to and fro between these two ultimate possibilities [the cities of God and Man] — will always be characterized by division and friction. The conflict between the two cities (symbolized by Cain’s killing of Abel) means that the life of any community must be disordered — and, hence, that life will be marked not only by the eschatological conflict between the City of God and the earthly city but also by division and conflict within society (symbolized by the killing of Remus by Romulus). Therefore: no return to paradise. No utopia. No end to friction and strife. No tone of surprise or outrage when politics turns out to be more complicated and less amenable to our ideals than we had imagined. The best we can hope for, and a mark of political wisdom, is that our divisions and disagreements be channeled and controlled in creative and fruitful ways. […]

Thinking with Augustine, therefore, we might come to endorse a politics free of redemptive purpose while simultaneously distinguishing from a politics entirely neutral with respect to competing visions of the good life or entirely deprived of religious reference in public life. The earthly peace welcomed by the heavenly city is an agreement about ‘the things relevant to mortal life.’ It is ‘secular’ in the sense that it is confined to this age that is passing away and is not of eternal significance. […]

If we see that the religious neutrality of a state (that is, it does not aim at the salvation of its citizens nor see itself as having any unique connection to God’s redemptive purposes in history) is equivalent to neutrality with respect to competing visions of the good life, we will have to look to thinkers other than Augustine for theoretical support. A chastened, realistic, non redemptive politics is not a politics denuded of attention to and care for a wide range of matters — the bond between the generations, the dignity of the human body, the connection between marriage and procreation, the worth of weak and voiceless human beings. Such concerns are relevant to this mortal life and are simultaneously part of our comprehensive visions of the morally good life.

From The Way that Leads There, (Eerdmans, 2006), 77, 93, 104, 107.

Gilbert Meilaender on duty and desire

Gilbert Meilaender on duty and desire

Our desire to live the “happy” life – which is ultimately the desire for God – may sometimes seem to conflict with our duties. It may appear that doing what is right is more likely to frustrate our desires than to bring them to fruition and fulfillment. This means that within human history we are unlikely to unify the moral life – unlikely to make the duties that obligate us cohere entirely with the goods for which we hope. Life is marked, therefore, by brokenness and incompleteness. […] Here and now we suffer the loss of good things and people whom we quite rightly love. Here and now, therefore, we ought to experience grief, loss, and brokenness. […] It would be presumption to imagine that we could attain the happiness we desire in this life. We may see the goal for which we yearn, but we must also confess that we cannot hold firmly to the way that leads there.

From The Way that Leads There, (Eerdmans, 2006), 143, 152.