I have been thinking the past few weeks about work as a result both of our young adult study in Ecclesiastes and preaching on Ephesians 4:28. It was good to revisit some of Martin Luther’s writings on the nature of vocation and calling (Luther really does provide a wonderful commentary on vocation and calling as synonyms. In Luther’s thinking, all work is a gift from God and as such it is vocation or calling. It is where God has called you!
On the other hand, after a few conversations with people (thanks Mindy!), I’ve had to revisit some of my thinking on the subject. Specifically, I’ve had to re-think through the belief that you have to be passionate about what you do. I know that I’ve said this to people. After these conversations, I began to wonder how people take this. Do they believe that you have to be excited about your job every day? In other words, we give people (I give people) this impression that they have to be passionate about what they do every day.
I wonder if I’ve oversold passion… Isn’t that how we use the word “passion”? It’s a kind of “zeal” that is connected to an elevated emotional state. In the book Being Good, David Horner and David Turner examine zeal as a virtue. While the New Testament validates being zealous as virtuous (the opposite sloth certainly adds nothing to a life lived well), there is a kind of virtue that can be misdirected or out of place. I think for most people the connection of zeal to passion as it relates to our ordinary jobs is, “I gotta love what I do.” In other words, the virtuous person loves their job.
Is it important to see your work as important and have a sense that you “fit” with your job? Yes. But in our language, do we give people the impression that they have to be excited about it consistently? That’s where I’m starting to wonder. If work is a gift from God, then what happens if our use of the word passion pushes people to the conclusion that I’m not “excited” about what I do and therefore I have to find something I’m passionate about? Again, there is an element of our work that should fit with our giftings and skills set. But what does it mean to be “excited”? I have wondered if it can lead people to floating from job to job wondering if they will ever get “the calling”?
Maybe most of work is mundane. Maybe the writer of Ecclesiastes in on to something when he says that work strictly seen as “under the sun” leads to the conclusion… it’s vanity. Maybe there is a greater purpose to work that is not primarily centered on passion. Maybe I can work at my job and not be excited about it every day because it represents something else other than my elevated emotions. It might include that (here and there like when I see how my job actually affects other people or how the Lord uses it to refine me) but it’s certainly more than that.