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January 18, 2011 - 


Q Because I work long hours and travel for work, I’m away from home a lot. I enjoy my work, but it’s beginning to take a toll on my health and my family life. How do I find a balance?

A Doing work well matters. Through our work we honor commitments we have made and the needs others have. By working we contribute to the flourishing of God’s kingdom. Where work goes wrong, human depravity is close behind.

If we work long hours to avoid going home to our spouses or families or to make money to purchase something we covet or to outperform the person in the next cubicle, we’re abusing God’s gift of work.

If we work excessively because our employers threaten to fire us or reduce our benefits (which may depend on unrealistically high levels of commission), or if our employers force us to do the work they dislike, then those  employers are abusing God’s good gift of work.

Work and recreation should balance one another. And work should not steal family time. Parents owe it to each other and their children to be present in the family’s life. Wives and husbands owe each other time in which their communication can unfold. Children of aged parents need to set aside time to care for them.

Often it seems that paid work hogs the time that belongs to other parts of life. God rested on the seventh day and told us to honor the Sabbath too, thereby giving the divine stamp of approval to setting aside time devoted to things other than work. Letting work obliterate rest goes against God’s plan for us.

So evaluate your own work habits. And if you employ people, pay attention to what you demand of them. After all, if our God needs rest, so do we!

—Helen Sterk

Dr. Helen Sterk is chair of communication arts and sciences at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Mich.


Q My work feels like a prison term. Why doesn’t God call me to something more fulfilling that pays at least a living wage?

A I am curious as to what makes you think that God actually calls people to a job they hate and that doesn’t provide for their needs. Would an all-loving God actually plan to make life so miserable for his child? Without knowing your background, circumstance, or profession, here are some thoughts about God’s calling.

I believe there are two kinds of “calling” from God: (1) God’s common calling to all disciples to live their whole lives under Christ’s lordship and to join God’s mission of reconciling all things, and (2) God’s specific calling to each individual, such as our own specific mission in life that contributes and connects to the common calling. It is often this second specific calling that we think of when we speak about God’s calling for our lives.

When thinking of our specific calling, we need to keep this in mind: our specific calling cannot be divorced from our common calling. Obviously this means that God doesn’t call us to sinful tasks or anything that goes against God’s redemptive plan for the world.

We cannot reduce our specific calling to a paid profession. Paid professions are one, among many, possible avenues for following God’s call. Calling and career are two different things. Thus, your low-paying and unfulfilling job may or may not be your calling or vocation.

We cannot reduce our specific calling to only one task or project either! Paid or unpaid, a specific task may not be the entire application of your life’s mission. For instance, was Jesus’ mission reduced to only dying on the cross? What about his teachings to the disciples or his healing of the sick? I suspect that each person’s specific calling is achieved through different tasks or projects that may span a lifetime. For example, David’s calling was not lived out only as king of Israel, but also through his poetry and psalms, not to mention his slaying of Goliath. Multiple tasks, or even careers, could be used to achieve one’s mission.

We cannot assume that our personal mission in life can or should be fulfilled in a narrow time frame. For instance, Moses’ primary calling was to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. But he did not begin that calling until he was 80 years old! He spent a good 40 years as a shepherd in the middle of nowhere. I doubt if Moses, raised as an educated prince of Egypt, would have found shepherding all that fulfilling. But was shepherding his ultimate calling or mission?

Finally, self-fulfillment is not the priority or aim of God’s calling for us. God’s calling is tied to God’s mission and God’s plan for the world. North American Christians are so influenced by our consumerist “pursuit of happiness” that we often prioritize our own fulfillment and joy ahead of God’s mission. And concepts like “sacrifice” are low in our understanding of spirituality. Remember that Jesus told his disciples to “deny themselves and take up their cross . . . and to lose their life for [Christ’s sake]” (Matt.16:24-25). The Bible’s focus is on the glory of God, not the happiness of Christians (even though they are not mutually exclusive).

Your current unfulfilling and low-paying job may well be, like Moses’ shepherding, a temporary growing experience for something else to come. Or it could mean that your current career choice has little to do with your calling. In either case, you will need to spend some time on personal reflection and in prayer to discern what your gifts and joys are and, especially, to where God is truly calling you. Perhaps it is not your current job.

—Shiao Chong

Shiao Chong is campus minister at York University, Toronto. 

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