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Teleological Be-ing

(Free Resource Below!)

This is Part III in our series on seven values that have shaped the culture of Fall Creek Abbey. To introduce the value of vocation, we’ll begin with a statement, one that not all people would agree with:

Humans are teleological beings.

To put this assumption in plain language, it suggests that we’re designed by God to seek out and live with purpose and meaning in life. We flourish best when we know who we are, why we’re alive, and can connect the dots of our small life with a larger purpose to which we’re called. When our lives and our world are in turmoil, like they are today, we can get stuck in survival mode, functioning out of our primitive “fight, flight, freeze” brain, and lose a sense of our greater purpose in the world. Sound vaguely familiar?

If this is true—that we are hard-wired with the need to find and live with purpose—then how do we answer the fundamental question, “What is my purpose in life?” We’d like to suggest that we discover our purpose when we engage with the true meaning of vocation. Our larger vocation. Not the answer to the question, “What should I do for a living?” (Which, by the way, the Irish never ask someone because it’s considered rude and a way of classifying people.) But the answer to the question, “What kind of person am I called to be in the world?”

Our vocation captures the larger essence of who we are, the totality of our life, and how we offer our whole selves for the greater good of the world. For followers of Jesus, our vocation includes our unique, specific calling, and the larger calling of our “faith expressing itself in love.” (Galatians 5:6)

Consider this definition of vocation from Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good, by Steven Garber:

“The word vocation is a rich one, having to address the wholeness of life, the range of relationships and responsibilities. Work, yes, but also families, and neighbors, and citizenship, locally and globally—all of this and more is seen as vocation, that to which I am called as a human being, living my life before the face of God. It is never the same word as occupation, just as calling is never the same word as career. Sometimes, by grace, the words, and the realities they represent do overlap, even significantly; sometimes, in the incompleteness of life in a fallen world, there is not much overlap at all.”

Here are some implications of vocation when we understand it this way:

  • Vocation informs not only what work we do, but how we do it. (I.e. with integrity, kindness, and excellence, etc.)

  • Vocation helps us embrace our responsibility not only to serve our “parishioners,” “clients” or “customers,” but to serve our families, our neighbors, and the strangers we meet along the way.

  • Vocation orients us toward the kind of lives we live, not primarily how we are compensated or rewarded.

  • Vocation uses the “we” and “us” pronoun, more than the “I” and “me” pronoun. It’s essentially a relational way of being, not focused on building personal or corporate empires.

  • Vocation helps us suffer well because we recognize that our small lives are connected to the larger purposes of God to heal, restore, and re-order our world, and that includes us!

  • Vocation tells us that we are designed, first and foremost, to live a life of love.

Yes, vocation is about the work we get paid to do. After all, we spend a lot of time doing it! But it is more than our job, career, or even individual calling. It is our universal and core orientation to leave the world a better place than we found it, and to do so in our own unique, particular way.

And in these times of upheaval, vocation helps us know how to navigate the chaos and despair that is encircling us. For instance, our sense of vocation helps us determine how to live in a pandemic—to consider the greater good of our communities and country rather than claim our “God-given rights as Americans.” (What an irony when we follow a leader who didn’t hold on to his rights as God but emptied himself for the sake of others!) Vocation informs how we respond to current events, like what’s happening in Afghanistan. Rather than turn a blind eye and an indifferent ear, our vocation invokes us to pray for the horrible plight of Afghani women and find ways to serve and give. (If you’re looking for a way, consider a gift to Migros Aid, a local organization who is working with Afghani immigrants.)

Each of us has a necessary and important part to play in God’s work in our world. Vocation matters! You matter! So how do you understand your vocation and how are you living it out?

If you’d like to think more deeply about this, we have a free resource to help you clarify your unique vocation. It’s called “Discovering a Life of Flourishing” and introduces the Japanese word, Ikigai—the experience of living a full and meaningful life.

By the way, this blog series is based on our new book, Prayers at Twilight: Daily Liturgies for the In-Between Times. If you missed the introduction, The Shaping of a Life, you can find it here. And if you’d like to pre-order your copy of Prayers at Twilight, you can do so here.


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