Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Vocation and Occupation

I've never thought of myself as a stay-at-home dad. During the school year, my wife goes off to work and I take care of our daughter until she gets home. I guess that makes me a stay-at-home dad. I've really never thought of myself that way.

Yes, there was some mental and relational adjustment moving from a job with an office and responsibilities every day to something more flexible. Of course, that transition happened at the same time we moved to another state, bought a house, and added a baby to the mix. Everything was changing so perhaps the adjustment was a bit easier.

There is a bit of social pushback to something like this. Despite the growth of stay-at-home dads, most people generally expect the father/husband to be the bread winner. Of course, I've never been well aligned with gender stereotypes in the first place and, even when I was working, haven't made more money than my wife since she was in college.

I'm not one to suffer others' opinions. I don't like disappointing people, but I have very little problem confounding them. I recognize this trait is somewhat rare; most of us want to fit in.

I talked to a friend in town who also spends most of his days taking care of his kids. You can see the tension as we broaches the subject of "what we do." You're just never sure how people will react - or whether you're going to have to defend yourself. In both our cases, we're capable of getting and keeping full-time employment should that be our choice. That often makes it more difficult for people. You choose to do this?

News flash: Men love spending time with their kids (most of them, anyway). I get a little frustrated from time to time when I run out of things to do (my daughter doesn't yet walk, so our activity options are sorely limited - this upcoming school year should be a lot more fun), but I love being able to spend time with her. She already has a special connection to my wife - they were, after all, once physically connected - and spending so much time with her gives me opportunity for an equally strong bond.*

After this experience, it's really difficult to see where the mindset comes from that, "if you stay at home with the kids, you're weak, less of a man." It comes most often from men and often directed at themselves.

I think it has something to do with how we define ourselves. I'd say our purpose in life is our vocation; it's what we believe we've been put on the planet to do. For some lucky souls, that vocation is something people will pay them enough money to do that they don't need to do anything else. Vocation and occupation are the same.

For the rest of us, we have an occupation. A job. Something that if sometimes rewarding, often not, but something that pays the bills and keeps us moving.

Too often, the distinction between occupation and vocation just aren't made. This happens more often with men. Women have a much easier time making "mother" their vocation, even if they have a great, fullfilling, busy occupation. That's just how things work. Again, they had a living thing growing inside them that didn't require strong doses of antibiotics. That changes things.

For men, we define ourselves by our work. At least that's our default position.

I've worked really hard over time to change my perception of this. For a few years, it was simply saying the words to myself "my occupation is not my vocation." Eventually, it started to sink in. Now, I think, it's pretty well grounded in my head.

I don't consider myself a stay-at-home dad, because while I am caring for my daughter, I'm also actively pursuing my vocation. I exist on this planet to live into the already and coming Kingdom of God - to love people and prove their inherent value through my words and actions. I don't need a paycheck to do that.

Specifically, I've been called and trained to pastor. Pastor has become an occupational term and it certainly is an occupation, but it's also much broader than that. It's a helping role. As a pastor, I get to walk alongside people who are struggling and struggle with them. I get to be a sounding board and a loving presence. I don't need a church or a paycheck to do that. I love being a pastor to my neighborhood.

Being a father is part of that vocation. There is this little person who needs all of my pastoral and vocational skills and probably a few more skills I don't have or I'm not very good at. When we have people who rely on us, taking care of them is part of our purpose on the planet.

My denomination held a General Assembly a few weeks back. It's a giant gathering of crazy Nazarenes from around the world who meet to overeat and argue about relative minutia - and then overeat again. We also, during that time, agree upon new leaders (our denomination is led by six ministers called General Superintendents). The voting is a long process - an election requires 2/3rds of the votes.

At one point, a young, impressively capable minister from Africa, Dr. Fili Chambo, was rising up the ballot. He looked to be a good candidate for election. He approached the microphone and asked that his name be removed from consideration. He felt his place was still in Africa and especially still helping to raise his young children in the faith (being a General Superintendent requires an ungodly amount of international travel).

Here is a minister, turning down the chance to hold the highest office possible. It was a moving, humbling, and happy experience to witness. It is a great reminder that even in Christian service, something that is most definitely a vocation, there is still an element of occupation that can creep in. Dr. Chambo reminded us all about the priority of vocation.

I speak about pastors because that is contextual for me. Others are in helping professions where vocation and occupation can be difficult to discern - doctors, teachers, farmers. Still others are in professions where occupation and vocation are intentionally united as part of a pressure-to-succeed atmosphere - bankers, lawyers, salespersons.

It doesn't really matter where your checks come from (and I do make some money through writing, preaching, and teaching - all things I love), but it's very easy to think it does matter. We've also gotten very good at justifying our occupation as vocation. I can preach and teach and write a lot, and about good, Godly things - but it may be detracting from my vocation.

You were put on this planet to do something - something even beyond our general purpose of loving God and loving others. Vocation is real and important. It might take a long time to unwind yourself from captivity to occupation, but it can make a world of difference.

*Or something approaching equally strong. When summer first started and all through the school year, my daughter would generally reach for me first when she needed something. Somewhere around the third week of June, that all changed. I'm definitely second fiddle. Mom still has something I will never be able to possess, but that's ok.

No comments: