Last year, in President Obama’s speech to the public schools, he said the following
Of course, each of you has the right to take your diploma and seek the quickest path to the biggest paycheck or the highest title possible. But remember: You can choose to broaden your concerns to include your fellow citizens and country instead. By tying your ambitions to America’s, you’ll hitch your wagon to a cause larger than yourself. You can choose a career in public service or the nonprofit sector, or teach in an underserved school. If you have medical training, you can work in an understaffed clinic. Love science? You can discover new sources of clean energy or launch a business that makes the most efficient and affordable solar panels or wind turbines.
Now, the gist of his message has a ring of truth to it. We shouldn’t set out to become as rich or successful as possible; we should have ambitions higher than ourselves.
While I don’t want to read too much into this message, I fear at the core of his message is the idea that I have experienced in my own life, specifically, that unless we have a job that is specifically designated to solve the world’s problems, that we are not contributing to mankind.
When I was a young child, I wanted to be a preacher. As I got older this dream eventually faded. During my second year in college, I wanted to be an engineer of some sort. This realization brought on two specific crises of conscious. The first one was more of a spiritual nature. How could I contribute to the kingdom of God working as an engineer. As I talked to my dorm RA, who incidentally aspired to and now is a preacher, he assured me that I could still serve and glorify God even as an engineer as I interact with others. He assured me that I could reach some people in some ways he, as a preacher, could not.
The second crisis was more of a secular nature. I thought I wanted to be an engineer, but I had also considered being a math professor. I had a university professor (who bragged that he never received a paycheck from anyone other than a state government) who thought I should really go toward the latter, as it seemed more noble. Part of me agreed with him. After all, being a math teacher of some sort seemed to put me in a position to make more of a difference in people’s lives, even if it was discussing power series or separation of variables. Ultimately, however, it didn’t seem to be the right path. There was a bigger part of me that craved problem solving, that wanted to go out into industry and simply work (not that math professors don’t solve problems, I just wanted a different type of environment).
So, ultimately, I followed my passion. I wasn’t going to be a preacher or serve in a position that supposedly bettered mankind, but I felt like I had to go with my heart. But maybe that’s okay. Jonathan Acuff of the funny and thought-provoking site Stuff Christians Like touches on this.
When I sometimes imagine “doing the work of the Lord,” I imagine sweat and tears and hard work and being obedient and disciplined and self controlled. Turns out, in my head, I serve a God who makes me build benches.
But what if I’m wrong?
What if you’re wrong?
What if we’ve all been wrong?
What if God doesn’t want more benches?
What if God wants you to build signs for Disc Golf because he knows you love that game?
What if God wants you to write books because he knows you love that?
What if God wants to unearth all those things you’ve hidden because you thought you weren’t talented enough? What if he wants you to roll around in the joys you thought were too silly or stupid or not spiritual enough?
For me, my passion is problem solving. I love sitting at a desk 8ish to 5ish banging around on a computer. My job may not have an immediate impact on mankind, but it allows me to feed my family, and that’s good enough for me.
The fallacy is believing that we must have a certain job title in order to serve God or “better mankind”, that if we do have a job as an engineer or a broker on Wall Street, that is inherently inferior to serving in the peace corp or working in a non-profit, or if we are not on paid staff at a church, what we do has no eternal impact. The people who do such jobs are to be commended, but not everyone has the ability or passion for those things. The truth is, no matter what job we have, we should serve God in that, such as the quality of work that I perform and my interactions with others. So the question I must ask myself is, am I doing that?