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.