Minister Speaks: Vocation
In his book, “The Conservative Heart: How to Build a Fairer, Happier and More Prosperous America,” Arthur Brooks summarizes the findings of thousands of research of studies of what makes for a happy life. It is a matter that should interest all of us.
To begin with, Brooks says that nearly half of our happiness is genetic, and another significant portion comes from having the good fortune to be born in the right location — apart from war, famine, epidemic disease, etc. So that much is predetermined.
But the portion of happiness that is to some extent within our control includes what Brooks calls our “happiness portfolio.” What is interesting is that none of the four are related to material abundance. These are the variable components of Brooks’ happiness portfolio: faith, family, community and work.
Faith: Do you have a framework to make sense of death and suffering?
Family: Do you have a home life with mutual affection, where the good of others is as important to you as your own happiness?
Community: Do you have at least two real friends who feel pain when you suffer and share joy when you thrive?
Work: Perhaps most fundamentally, when you leave home on Monday morning, do you believe that there are other people who genuinely benefit from the work you do? Is your calling meaningful? Not: “Is it fun or well-compensated?” – but rather — “Does it matter?”
This last component of the “happiness portfolio” sounds a lot like one of the positive byproducts of the Protestant Reformation, now about 500 years ago.
Based on his readings of 1 Corinthians 7:17-24, Martin Luther taught that each Christian has multiple vocations (from the Latin word for “calling”) in life: callings in our work, families, citizens in society, and in the church.
Luther taught that this idea of “vocation” is a practical way for you to love our neighbor (Matthew 22:35-39). Work then becomes a way that you can use your various God-given gifts, talents and abilities to benefit and bless others.
This is broader than merely producing something for others’ consumption. It can include building a good marriage or a healthy family, benefiting others, like taking care of an elderly family member, feeding your kids, teaching music, or washing dishes at a restaurant. It is doing the work in life that you understand yourself to be created to do, and it is the ways in which you serve and contribute to the common good through your work that bring lasting satisfaction — and blesses others along the way.
Coming back to Brooks, who concludes his research findings by saying, “it is work, not money, that is the fundamental source of our dignity. Work is where we build character.” Work “is where we offer up our talents for the service of others” that we find “value with our lives and where we lift up our own souls.” It sounds very much like this teaching on vocation explored above.
And what does the Bible say? “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31), and work with an eternal perspective: “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the LORD, because you know that your labor in the LORD is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)