The etymology of “vocation” pulls from the Latin vox (“voice”), vocare (“to call”), and vocatio (“a summons”). Thus, the idea of “vocation” is embedded in variations of "calling." Simply, this means vocation and calling are largely synonymous. This leads us to the conclusion that the concept of vocation is much bigger and more significant than a particular job.
"Follow your dreams."
"Find what you're passionate about."
"Do what you love and you’ll never work another day in your life."
Have you heard this before? These seemingly hopeful, future-oriented encouragements carry hidden implications: work shouldn't feel hard, your job should provide personal fulfillment, and work is just an obstacle you need to overcome.
But is this actually true? What does Scripture teach?
For Christians, work is much more than an obstacle to our personal fulfillment. Work was in the garden before the fall (Gen 2). It was not until after the fall that work became burdened with thistles and thorns. Further, God was a worker in creating the environment and the flora and fauna that dwell there. If God was a worker and still is today, then work has redemptive properties that help grow us.
This idea of "do what you love" is misguided at best. First, it is a mentality that is out of reach for the majority of humanity throughout history. Only a small minority have been privileged with the time and resources necessary to venture out and explore different jobs, searching for one that provides the most enjoyment. Ultimately, "do what you love" can devolve into a self-focused illusion of seeking a job that may not ever exist.
Scripture's teaching of calling provides a much deeper satisfaction of following God in every circumstance, in every place, and no matter our like or dislike of a particular job.
Author Os Guinness expands on how calling takes a life-time to understand:
In many cases a clear sense of calling comes only through a time of searching, including trial and error. And what may be clear to us in our twenties may be far more mysterious in our fifties because God’s complete designs for us are never fully understood, let alone fulfilled, in this life.
In relation, here’s how Jayber Crow, the lead character of Wendell Berry’s classic novel, looks back on his own life as a barber:
I know I’ve been lucky. Beyond that, the question is if I have not been also blessed, as I believe I have—and beyond that, even called. Surely I was called to be, for one thing, a barber…in spite of my intentions to the contrary.
Now I have had most of the life I am going to have, and I can see what it has been. I can remember those early years when it seemed to me I was completely adrift, and times when, looking back at earlier times, it seemed I had been wandering in the dark woods of error. But now it looks to me as though I was following a path that was laid out for me, unbroken, and maybe even as straight as possible, from one end to the other, and I have this feeling, which never leaves me anymore, that I have been led.
Jayber had confusing days in his career, but he felt he could understand that confusion and gain meaning of it later in life. Despite other plans he had as a young man, he felt that his role as a barber was part of being drawn outward toward God in humility and toward his neighbor in love.
Berry draws us toward the place where calling starts: the love of God. Our specific callings should be put back into their proper alignment behind the love of God and neighbor. When this happens, then calling becomes less about finding a point on a map, and the confusion associated with such precision, and more about exploring the map while on the lookout for how to love our God and love our neighbor well.
Calling is less about pinpointing exactly what God wants us to do and more about exploring the opportunities that God has for us. This is our who, how, and why. Secondary to that, we focus on our specific calling, and the what and where God invites us.