I Don’t Believe in Soul Mates (The Job Version): A Tip of The Hat To Maryann McKibben Dana

Maryann doesn’t believe in soul mates. She says, “Marriage is a crap shoot. You hope you have some enduring compatibility and you work at it and you let a lot of stuff go, and still there’s all this stuff that acts upon you that you don’t have a lot of control over.”

Isn’t the same thing true about our work?

A canon of mythology has grown up around pursuing work we love, including the ubiquitous charge to “find your passion” and the well-meaning question that was posed to me almost daily in college: “what is God calling you to do with your life?” That mythology puts a ton of unnecessary pressure on people to pick the right work or else miss their God-given calling. And it obscures both the gift and the responsibility we have to work with our lives.

My dad never loved his work. It was a job that paid the bills and enabled some family and leisure pursuits. But he never felt “called” to it. He felt lucky to have it, and, for the last decade of his career, he counted the days to retirement. I’m proud of that. Just last night I was boasting to someone about the work my dad did. But God knows he was never “passionate” about it.

We are called and suited to particular kinds of work, I believe, and God cares a great deal about how we steward the talents we’ve been given. But we should not expect passion to persist at all times in our work, and we certainly should not conclude that when energy fades so has our calling.

I suspect a great deal of clergy burnout (to take one example) results from unrealistic expectations about how new pastors will feel about their work forever and ever amen. When energy wanes for the umpteenth confrontation with a difficult congregant and when earnestness is worn thin, it’s easy to conclude that you were wrong, that you’re not actually called and suited to this work, that real pastors feel differently than you do. They’re called, you’re not. That’s a mistake.

As in romance, so in work. A great, great deal of what makes both romantic relationships and work valuable is the stuff you do when you don’t really feel like it. The moonlit walk on the beach required budgeting for the trip together and arranging childcare and enduring a headache. “I want the truth!” required hours of joyless drudgery and reams upon reams of paper.This is the stuff that doesn’t make the movie montage, but it’s the stuff that really matters.

When we identify our suitability for a given work with our passion for doing it, we are bound to be disappointed, at least some of the time. Disappointment in healthy, both in relationships and in work. Disappointment leads to growth and maturity.

So much of our vocation as leaders and learners, parents and pediatricians, teachers and tellers, comes down to persistence, enduring routine exercises without much energy (much less passion) for the sake of the bigger picture. Or even, in Maryann’s poetic phrase, “The heaven in ordinary things.”

Let’s work for those.


7 thoughts on “I Don’t Believe in Soul Mates (The Job Version): A Tip of The Hat To Maryann McKibben Dana

  1. kuhnrebecca2 says:

    Rocky – what a thoughtful analogy. I am lucky to be in a career that I do love, but find that you are right. Relationships are work. Even (or especially) the relationship that we have with our vocation. Comparisons,,what ifs…making peace with our decision…savoring the good moments…daily routines…crises…the wisdom and joy that can comes from making it through hard times together. I stopped believing in soul mates after I took sociology and saw the factors that we can measure that go into determining who we pair up with. I suppose it’s the same with our careers. It’s not magic. There are various social factors that helped get us where we are. There can be “magic” moments and times that we feel called, but I think you are right, loosing the “magic” does not mean we are in the wrong place. Thanks much for sharing this.

  2. Pingback: Ministry: It’s a ‘Dirty Job’! | MaryAnn McKibben Dana

  3. Hi Rocky,

    I certainly agree there’s a parallel situation here, although most of us don’t make vows or covenants with our work.

    I believe that not everyone is in a job that we discerned with our their spiritual community that they were “called” into. But as followers of Christ, I think when we do respond to a spiritual calling into a job, it shouldn’t be because of our commitment to, our relationship with, or our love for the job. Rather it should be because of our commitment to, our relationship with, and our love for God, who calls us. And then we look to God to sustain us and not our fulfillment or satisfaction from our work.

    Similarly, I also don’t think everyone is in a marriage that they discerned with their spiritual community that they were “called” into. But I think when we commit in marriage it shouldn’t be primarily because of our commitment to, our relationship with, or our love for our spouse. Rather because of our commitment to, our relationship with and our love for God, who calls us into marriage. And in the times when it is difficult, unfulfilling or unsatisfying, it is not our spouse that sustains us but the God that calls us into the marriage.

    Great to dialogue about this!

    • Amen, Tom! I think the thing I’m working out here is a kind of reaction against our work when it gets difficult, or even tedious, as if the struggle indicates we should be doing something else.

  4. Reblogged this on Changing Direction and commented:
    A mentor in the church told me that anyone who enjoys 60% of his or job should consider him/herself fortunate. That is a good percentage. Anything above that is icing on the cake. I have found that helpful through the years.

    In addition, I have often remembered that the job for which one is paid is not necessarily one’s God-given vocation. One may work as a mechanic without feeling called to that job, while instead feeling called to an after-work volunteer role as coach of a soccer or baseball team. I transferred this idea to the ministry in that I felt called to some parts of my responsibilities as pastor, but other parts were merely aspects of what needed to be done.

  5. Emma says:

    Austin AYAVA house just had a great conversation involving this very blog post! We’re talking about resilience, vocation, and call.

    Thank you. Amen.

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