By: Ryan O’Dowd
October 30, 2015
Ironically the more choices we have, the more likely we will feel trapped, worried that we might miss out on something.
In 2012 Chesterton House was one of the first organizations invited to participate in the Campus Ministry Theological Exploration of Vocation (CMTEV) initiative as a pilot round grantee. We’re into our third year of the initiative and we can honestly say that every year has begun with a surprising mix of new opportunities and new challenges.
We came to the CMTEV annual gathering in October with the energy of a new batch of excited students. But this came with the heavy sense of the pressures that our students face in choosing between what feels like an infinite array of options before them. How should they choose their path in life? And how will they know that they have chosen well?
After conversations about these pivotal questions, Calvin, one of our CMTEV friends, shared an article with us by David Brooks of the New York Times. Brooks observes that the immense variety of choices that our students face, rather than being attractive and freeing, can actually be paralyzing. Ironically the more choices we have, the more likely we will feel trapped, worried that we might miss out on something.
The search for the “deep desires of their hearts” also leaves our students feeling like they are stuck in a maze as their desires constantly wax and wane. Here Brooks comments,
“When faced with a transformational choice the weakest question may be, What do I desire? Our desires change all the time. The strongest questions may be: Which path will make me a better person?”
Brooks raises the age-old problem of knowing how to balance our freedoms and responsibilities. Strange as it may seem, it is the “I oughts” and “I shoulds” that often give a greater sense of purpose and direction than the “I wants” and “I cans.”
These conversations with Calvin and others overlapped with David Cunningham’s presentations on the grammar of vocation. Many of the catchier definitions of vocation can be too vague and difficult to apply in real life. Cunningham expanded our language of “call” and “vocation” to allow for much broader application to the actual variety of people and circumstances that exist in the world. “Call,” for example, can mean many things and come from man sources, not only from God. The “what” that we’re called to is often not specific either. We can recognize that we may have a call to teaching, but freedom to pursue it in a variety of ways. Combining a sort of freedom within a larger form, Cunningham’s grammar speaks realistically to the young people we work with on our campus.
It was affirming to hear honest admissions among speakers and attendees that vocation is difficult to understand and apply. But ultimately work matters to God, and so the challenges we face should not deter us from continuing to engage our students in their journeys through education to lives of love and service in the world.