Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Christ and Our Callings, Part 4

Life makes life complicated.  As my wife once said, "Don't you hate it when life gets in the way of, you know, life?"  In case I'm being opaque, life's demands and responsibilities and limitations always seem to get in the way of the joys we want to pursue.  But what if instead of hindering us, these help us find freedom?

Back in November, Olivia gave birth to our second child, our daughter Margaret.  That means more bills, more childcare, more family needs--and of course more love and joy in our home too.  But nonetheless it has made us grapple with our priorities about time, money, and calling.

For years I've felt a growing unrest and dissatisfaction with being a public high school science teacher.  Along the way, a nagging Sehnsucht plagues me on and off.  Most recently, my desire to pursue graduate studies and a career in forest and wetland ecology has reached its zenith.  I started looking at graduate programs, such as this amazing one at Virginia Tech.  But the reality is that grad school would put us in debt and likely force us to relocate--all for a government job that would probably earn less money and give less vacation time than my current job.  As I considered my dreams of spending days outdoors, I realized that it was impractical, if not inaccessible.  I felt stuck--and glum.

Some days I still do.

But around new year's I had a revelation.  What if, instead of thinking about what job would be most enjoyable and satisfying, I rather looked at what my real priorities were in life, and chose a job that best supported those priorities?  My foremost calling is as a disciple of Christ and a member of his body, the church.  After that, I've made a lifelong pledge to become one flesh with my wife.  Third, I'm a father to my children.  Only after that am I a worker.  So what job would best enable me to fulfill the higher callings?  It makes little sense to have a fulfilling job at the expense of things that really matter more.  While teaching doesn't pay a whole lot here in Virginia, it does afford me nine weeks off in the summer--plenty of time with my family, if I'm not teaching summer school or picking up other work in the summer.  And I wouldn't need to go to grad school or relocate or place those other demands on my family.

It was suddenly freeing to think that way--like that gray raincloud over me was starting to lift. Instead of feeling stuck in a dead-end job, I began to feel more hopeful.  That this was where God really wanted me for now.  (Olivia would be quick to tell me that dead ends are only for people who are considering their lives without Christ in view.)   I still don't super love teaching.  That hasn't changed overnight.  But it gives me a little more hope that God will equip me to do a good job in it and to find days of happiness too.

Then I began also to consider my life under God's providence, his guiding hand.  Of all the people in the world who have no choice over their occupation and who've had no chance at an education, I was able not only to go to a university, but also to choose my own career path and land not one, but four jobs in my chosen profession.  That's a remarkable privilege that few in history have had.  If through all the choices I've had and doors God has opened, I have this job, then it certainly can't be a bad thing.  Maybe it's the best thing for me right now.

On top of that, having the job of your dreams certainly can't be essential to being fully alive, worshiping God and living out his image in the world.  After all, most people have to simply take whatever job they can find or learn whatever trade their family has been in for generations.  If it's not something attainable to all mankind, then it's not essential to life the way God wants us to live it.

(Sorry, no great conclusion here today!  But check out my earlier posts in this series: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.)