“What do you do?” It’s often the go-to question anytime well-intentioned adults find themselves needing to make small talk among strangers. The conventional way of answering this question has us revealing our occupations to one another, discussing in greater or lesser detail the nature of our work. A few years ago I met with a friend in her office to chat about my vocational next-steps. Sitting across from me, she looked me in the eyes and asked with all seriousness, “What in God’s name are you doing?!” The question caught me off-guard: “What do you mean, ‘What in God’s name am I doing,’” I replied. “I’m sitting here in your office trying to carry on a conversation.”
We’re used to hearing this phrase used colloquially as a judgment. For example, a parent might say, “What in God’s name are you doing?!” to his or her children after entering a room to find them coloring on the walls with permanent markers. But if we let the question sink a little deeper, we might come to understand the question is far more radical than its colloquial use suggests. By asking, “What in God’s name are you doing,” my friend was inviting me to consider how I am being intentional about allowing Christ to instruct the ways I act, live, and labor.
In love, God invites all people to participate in preserving the creative beauty first enacted when God formed the world and said of God’s labors, “It is good.” Every vocation, then, has the potential to be a Christian vocation. From teaching and housekeeping to social work, construction work, parenting, farming, and medicine, our own labors memorialize God’s work in creation. In trying to heed this call daily, we would do well to ask of our own labors: Who and what do we work for? For ourselves? For our bosses? For our families or society? Are we working for a paycheck, a mortgage payment, or for retirement? Maybe we’re working for the betterment of our communities, for our principles, for “happiness” or future generations or the health and peace of the world. Whatever and whomever it is that motivates us in our daily labors, our discipleship as followers of Christ requires that we begin and end our understanding of our lives’ vocations with the response, “we are working for the Lord.”
The next time someone asks you, “So, what do you do?” tell them about your Christian vocation: “I try to love others well.” “I play with my kids.” “I do a lot of careful listening.” “I try to be forgiving and kind and generous, and to do it all in a way that points God-ward.”