catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 2, Num 21 :: 2003.11.07 — 2003.11.20


Forty hours of purpose

Discovering a path to meaningful work

I was refreshed recently by an e-mail from a college friend, who told me of the work she's doing with a program mediating conflicts in situations of child abuse and neglect. Her husband, in the meantime, is working toward his PhD in engineering, hoping to work someday with alternative energy fuel cells. Their work in these areas takes place between extended trips to Russia where they serve and teach at the Russian-American Christian University.

So what refreshes me about their lives? More than just being highly motivated learners and workers, they get it. They understand that their role in this world is not just to make money or experience pleasure or "survive." They understand that, as Christians, we are called to a unique vocation, one that will engage our gifts, passions, and experiences in the service of the Kingdom of God.

I still can't explain the different processes that lead to getting it or not getting it, but I know the difference is not merely one of knowledge. If it were, so many students would not be able to pass through 17 years of Christian education and still graduate to pursue the American Dream with little idea about how to live out their faith practically. But I'm still driven to discover the secret to this discovery, especially as it pertains to the work of *cino in equipping each part of the body of believers to perform a unique function and work effectively in community with other believers.

For me, grasping the magnitude of vocation was a matter of discovering the right questions at the right times. In my senior year of high school, it was a question (inspired by my many excellent teachers) of how faith and the arts are intertwined. In college, it was a question of how I could serve the hungry people of this world in a way that honored a broader definition of hunger than just the physical. After college, the most important question was one I finally had to ask of myself as I tested several potential life directions: What can I not live without?

Imparting his wisdom on the meaning of life, George Bernard Shaw wrote:

This is the true joy of life: being used up for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to others, and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for them whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live.

Do you know anyone who might be described as a "feverish, selfish little clod of ailments?" Someone who's always complaining that nothing's going their way? I have encountered these people many times and what ties them all together is a lack of purpose. They live their lives as if the only goal is to survive with a modest amount of material comfort and as few moral failings as possible. Ultimately, they lack vision for their lives.


Some people will stumble on their lives' purpose by accident, but usually, developing a vision for your life and discovering your vocation requires intentional work. All I can offer in the way of what this work might look like is based on the process of questioning that helped me. Ask yourself: what was I made to do? Or, if you come up with too many answers, like I did, ask yourself: what can I not live without? Quoting an unknown source in his book Wild at Heart, John Eldredge writes, "Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive." What makes me feel most alive? Is it writing essays or working outdoors or helping children learn? Is it caring for the earth or working with numbers or traveling the world? Chances are, if you can answer the question of what you can't live without, you'll be closer to answering the question of what you were made for. We all need to engage seriously in a practical vocation if we hope to fulfill our roles as members of the body of Christ. Each of us needs to claim a calling.

Few things are more saddening to me than to know people who have lived many years without discovering their true vocation, without being able to see their work as an activity that is delicately and beautifully woven together with their passions and gifts. To view one's daily work as a necessary burden is to miss the true joy that can come from performing the tasks we were created to do. Frederick Buechner said, "Where your deepest gladness and the world's deepest hunger meet, that's your vocation." May you all find that point of intersection and, when you do, may you share the story of your journey to that point as often as you have occasion.

Discussion thread: Finding your calling

Do you feel like you're engaged in the work you are meant to do? If so, how did you arrive at that point? If not, what obstacles do you face in getting there?

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