My first paying job wasn’t much pay. I was Roger’s assistant. Roger was my good friend, and he delivered newspapers, The Dothan Eagle, early on weekends. I was his sidekick. I learned that Mrs. Smith wanted her paper on the front porch up against the front door. And so l threw it when Roger’s car, a Corvair, got to the bush at the front of the porch, and a sling over the top of the car would land it just where Mrs. Smith wanted it. I liked doing that but didn’t want to make a career out of it.
My next job was to work after school my senior year of high school making copies of house plans because I had a notion that I might someday be an architect.
In college, when home for the summers, I worked for my dad, who owned a construction company. I picked up nails eight hours a day in the summer, with temperatures hovering at 120 in the shade and gnats as big as nails hovering over my face. I hated that work and decided that something inside, preferably a sanctuary, was more to my liking.
After college I did a stint as a substitute teacher and decided that a life of crime would be a better way to make a living than that.
In seminary I worked as a security guard in a mall in New Orleans. If that strikes you as funny, well join the crowd. I was Barney Fife without a bullet and without any training. If I ever caught a crook, all I could say was, “Don’t ever do that again, please.” Also in seminary, I loaded trucks at night, Monday through Friday night, 6-10. I would unload, say 100 cans of paint off of one truck and load it onto another. I met some interesting characters on the truck dock in hot, humid New Orleans, all of which reaffirmed my calling to work with church folk in a building that has a thermostat.
All of these jobs were good for me. They taught me the value of hard work, and they put me in touch with people, with all kinds of people. It also taught me what I did not want to do for a living for the rest of my life. There was a process of elimination that went on.
When I was young, I thought that there was one and only one job that God had in mind for each of us to do with our lives. That was pretty daunting as an 18-year-old. So, we had to go on the quest of finding that out, or if you will, reading God’s mind. That was a scary proposition, to say the least. How was I to know whether I was supposed to be a doctor, which my mom wanted me to be because my granddad was, or an architect, because I was good at math and liked to draw, or a professional golfer, like Arnold Palmer, though that dream died with a balky putting stroke?
Since Jesus said that God is like a father, I wonder if God is a lot or a little like me. I have two kids, and I don’t care so much what they do for a living; I care more with how they do it. And I care more that they find joy and meaning in it. Do you think God cares as much whether you are a teacher or a nurse, or does God care more that your heart belongs to him, that you serve God in whatever job you choose?
I’m thinking of such things today because young people are headed off to college soon and their parents are facing the empty nest and wondering if they did a good job of raising their kid.
Do you know what the great protestant reformer Martin Luther said? He said that no job is dearer to the heart of God than any other. Whether you are a ditch digger or a preacher, it’s all the same to God. Luther said that all of us who are Christians have a mutual vocation—that of loving God and neighbor.
Then again, I also wonder if Martin Luther ever loaded trucks, picked up nails, or flung newspapers.