As we float through this week toward Labor Day, I am thinking about how kids think about work. Those of you who work away from home do work that children don’t actually see. Consequently, they develop a fantasy of going-to-work based on what they hear us say. One of my daughters, when she was very young, believed that her Daddy “went to work and made money on his ‘puter.” In the dark ages of the late 1980’s she hadn’t ever played a computer game, or been behind the locked doors of her father’s workplace. It was entirely logical for her to believe that a computer was a machine that spit out money like an ATM.
Some of us work at things familiar to children; the work done by teachers, tellers, garbage collectors, police officers and doctors is comprehensible to them, but many of us, engineers, programmers, and accountants have a much harder time describing what we do to our children. In the absence of observed data, children will construct an idea of “working” from what they hear you say. My daughter’s conclusion that her daddy was printing money at the office no doubt arose from his customary parting statement “Bye-bye Sugar, Daddy’s got to go work on his computer and make some money for us.” What are your kids hearing about work from you? Are they hearing that your work is hateful, hard, or stressful, or are they hearing that going to work is exciting, challenging, or fun? If you are one of those who are fortunate enough to be doing what you are “called” to do, then your children are probably constructing an image of work that makes them look forward to growing up and having a job.
According to Wikipedia, the word vocation, while once almost exclusively used to refer to priests and other religious workers, “has evolved to include the notion of using our talents and capabilities to good-effect in choosing and enjoying a career.” Frederick Buechner, writer and theologian, says “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet.” Some of us are called to heal, teach or feed, others to invent, create, or design; still others are called to help the world operate in an orderly fashion. Some of us are called to care for families, create art or write books, often for little or no pay and what we get paid to do is a means to our vocation. Some of us are fortunate enough to get paid for answering our calls. We’ve all met people who exhibit deep gladness in their work – sometimes in jobs we couldn’t bear to do. Wouldn’t it be great if we could help our children find their calling, their deep gladness? Can we give them an attitude toward work that makes it something to look forward to with anticipation?
I have been blessed to have felt a calling where ever I have worked – though sometimes the job arrived before the call. The call was not always explicitly to the actual job, but always seemed tied to a particular need. In the current economy people are thinking about their work from a different point of view. Perhaps some consideration of vocation would be valuable in times such as these. I hope that today, or soon, you have work that brings you joy. And hey – it’s Labor Day weekend. I hope you get to go swimming or run through the sprinkler to celebrate your long weekend!