Congratulations to the graduating class of 2019! You have worked hard for this achievement, and we are all excited to celebrate this day with you.
I still remember sitting where you’re sitting, wearing my cap and gown, taking photos with my family – and wondering what the future held. Big life milestones like graduations not only provide opportunities to celebrate with each other, but also chances to pause, reflect on the past, and look with hope to the future. Additionally, they often come with a lot of complicated, mixed-up emotions as changes loom ahead and everyone you meet asks you “What are you going to do next?”
So, I’m going to be that person: what are you going to do next? Up to now, most of your life has been directed by others, but now you’ll be the one making decisions. So how do you figure out what you should do with your life? What is your calling? Maybe you’re not too worried about the answer to that question. “Real life” doesn’t begin until you’ve graduated from college or landed your first professional job anyway, right? That’s when the “adulting” really begins, right?
“Real life” is NOW. It always has been. You don’t have to wait until “someday” for your life to take on meaning. As Christians, we are called to love and serve our neighbors in our current vocations, where we are right now.
As you enter the adult world, with all of its responsibilities and privileges, burdens and joys, never underestimate the power of ordinary, everyday things done faithfully, because it is through our daily tasks that we live out God’s call to love our neighbor as ourselves.
But what does this mean? What is a vocation, and how do you live it out in your daily life? A vocation is a calling from God, by which we use our God-given talents and abilities to love and serve our neighbors in whatever way is appropriate given our relationship to them – and, in doing so, we also love and serve God, because he says that “whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me.”
This is not an abstraction. You don’t have to wait for God to speak to your heart or send you a sign for you to know what your calling is. It’s here, in every facet of daily life. For example, you are all sons or daughters, and in that vocation your parents are your neighbors – so when you honor and respect your parents (say, by taking out the trash or washing the dishes without complaining), you are fulfilling your vocation as a son or daughter, and honoring God in the process.
Maybe you work in a fast food restaurant. In that case, the customer ordering the chicken sandwiches is your neighbor. So is your boss. So are your coworkers. You have different responsibilities to each of them, but when you fulfill those responsibilities faithfully, you are fulfilling your vocation as an employee, and in doing so you are loving and serving God.
This isn’t a glamorous concept, but it is so, so important, because it infuses every daily task with supernatural significance, even when we struggle to see it. When your boss tells you to go clean the bathrooms and you do it faithfully, you are serving God. When your college professor assigns you homework and you complete it to the best of your ability, you are serving God.
Christian author Gene Veith explains the concept of vocation more in his book God at Work, which I highly recommend and wish I’d known about when I graduated from high school. He says:
“[The Christian doctrine of Vocation] is more than an understanding of work, more than the slogan that we should do all things for the glory of God, more than a vague theological platitude…. It transfigures the ordinary, everyday life with the presence of God.”
He goes on later to say that “. . . vocation is played out not just in extraordinary acts – the great things we will do for the Lord, the great success we envision in our careers someday – but in the realm of the ordinary.”
I am not saying any of this to downplay your big dreams. The big things in life certainly have their place, and it is admirable to hope and plan for the future. You may have specific career goals that you’re aiming for someday, and that’s great! Our careers are certainly one vocation in which we serve our neighbors, and you may have a calling to serve others by being a compassionate nurse, a skilled car mechanic, or dedicated journalist.
But there’s a lot of life to be lived between now and when you achieve those big career dreams. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” Don’t ignore the good works God has prepared for you now for the good works you hope to do someday. Of course, these works do nothing to earn our salvation before God; that is dependent on Christ’s death and resurrection. But by our works, which are the fruits of faith, we serve our neighbors, and because Christ is hidden in our neighbor, we also serve Him.
As you celebrate your graduation today and begin the next chapter of your lives, there are three key takeaways I hope you’ll remember.
First, living out your vocations involves finding balance. As you can see, we all actually have not just one, but many vocations. You are a son or daughter and possibly a brother or sister. You have been a student, and you may be a student again soon. You either are or likely will be an employee at some point. You are a friend, and you may be a spouse and a parent someday.
Part of adulthood involves learning to balance all of these vocations, because in some seasons of life one vocation will need more attention than others – and that balance may change again and again as the years pass. Your vocation as a son or daughter may look different as you move out of your parents’ home, but the core duty of honoring and respecting them remains the same. If you choose to go to school, you may need to cut back on your hours at work during the semester to devote more time to your vocation as a student. Adulthood is an ebb and flow of various vocations, and learning how to prioritize and balance them is a lifelong learning curve.
Second, the Christian concept of vocation gives us an immense freedom, and that should take a lot of pressure off as you discern how best to live out your various callings. God has given each of you your own set of unique talents and gifts. How should you choose to use them? One of the best parts of this is that often there is more than one right answer!
Third and finally, an understanding of the Christian doctrine of vocation should instill a respect for all honest work – including work which our culture does not regard very highly – because all vocations are equal before God. Gene Veith, summarizing the Reformers, writes that “Pastors, monks, nuns, and popes are no holier than farmers, shopkeepers, dairy maids, or latrine diggers. In the spiritual kingdom, in a divine egalitarianism, peasants are equal to kings. All are sinful beings who have been loved and redeemed by Christ.”
The culture around us, of course, doesn’t see this. From a secular perspective, some careers are more important and more prestigious than others. My husband Joshua, for example, excelled at chemistry in high school, and his teacher urged him to pursue the subject as a career. Joshua, however, had known from a very young age that he wanted to be a pastor when he grew up, and that desire never changed. When he told his chemistry teacher this, though, the teacher responded by saying that Joshua would be wasting his life by being “just a pastor.” Fortunately, Joshua didn’t listen to her, and is now a pastor at a conservative Lutheran church south of Topeka.
You might make one series of choices that work for you and your interests and abilities, and your classmates will choose different paths. The culture may value the resulting vocations differently, but we are all equal before God. Always remember that.
So as you walk across the stage today and prepare to pursue your hopes and dreams for the future, remember to be faithful in the vocations God has placed you in now. Don’t wait for that next milestone moment to answer the “what are you going to do next?” question. Love and serve the neighbor God has placed before you right now, and in doing so, you will be loving and serving Christ himself. What could be more meaningful than that?