I like to watch birds. I watch for birds by observing feeders in our backyard, by looking out my window during my drive to work each day, and by making special trips to places just to look for birds. It would be silly to try to watch birds by exclusively sitting in a chair in my living room memorizing the bird book. It would be silly to watch birds by exclusively laying in bed at night thinking about all the places I could go to see birds. It would be silly to watch birds by stomping through the woods in my big hiking boots calling “Here, birdie, birdie!”
My best experiences watching birds have come through a combination of efforts. I enjoy studying birdwatching guidebooks, listening to other bird watchers talk about their experiences, putting out bird food to entice a variety of birds to the backyard, and going out to the places where birds are likely to be.
As with this one small part of my vocation, so it goes with the entire package called “vocation.” It would be silly to exclusively search for vocation by sitting in a chair reading about vocation or lying in bed dreaming of vocation or making a vocation of stomping through life looking for vocation. One’s sense of vocation comes from a wide variety of unique experiences—studying, consulting with others, discovering new things, celebrating joyfully, watching quietly, etc.
So a high school student takes a course in chemistry and is amazed to find her name near the top of the scores for the final test—not so much because she studied harder than anyone else, but because the study of chemistry just made sense. Because the student did well on the test (and even more importantly had decided to attend the community college in town), she was hired for a job in her high school chemistry lab. Because of her job, she was required to take more chemistry, so she decided to get a teaching degree in chemistry. As a result of teaching chemistry (at the above mentioned community college), she met a student in her class who eventually became her husband. They moved together across the country to settle just in time for her to find the one (of only two in the state) chemistry stockroom position open. This is where she worked as her husband got his degree. They made a couple more moves and had a family. One day as she wondered what she should do with her life as her youngest headed off to first grade, she opened up the Decorah Shopper to look at grocery ads and found an ad for the chemistry stockroom position at Luther College. This is where you can still find her.
And one seemingly normal day suddenly became the day our nation will always remember as 9/11. As the campus struggled with bomb threats, evacuated buildings on campus, and TV images of massive destruction caused by four different hijacked airplanes, she drove home after work. Above her, she saw four eagles gliding upwards in gentle circles above the Upper Iowa River. Her sense of vocation told her as she stopped to watch these birds that however awful things might be, we are always called to be lifted up as if on eagles’ wings.
Is your sense of vocation a result of quiet watchfulness, a result of miraculous serendipity, a result of careful planning, or a result of lots of intentional hard work? As with bird watching, the answer is “yes (all of the above).” We continually wait and watch for all the times and all the places the One who calls us says to us, “Yes, you are mine, with whom I am well pleased.” There you will sense your vocation.