At the end of third grade, we moved to Alpena, Michigan. It was four hours away from everyone and everything I knew. At eight years old, it may as well have been four states away. But fourth-graders tend to be very dramatic. No one tells parents this though. So consider this your heads up if your child is entering fourth grade.
I made friends quickly in my new town and new school in spite of being a quiet and awkward redhead. I was small for my age. I had gangly, skinny legs and my pants were always falling down. I was also stuck in that phase where children want to wear their jackets everywhere, even inside the house. (You thought it was only your child)
Even though I made friends quickly, I was still the new kid. My classmates had been friends since kindergarten which is like forever when you’re in fourth grade. The bell would ring for recess and we all would run for the monkey bars. I loved the monkey bars. I had zero skills or chance of being a gymnast, but a girl can dream.
One day, the boys were harassing the girls. So basically another day on the playground. It continued even until we lined up before returning to class. One of the boys was bullying my friend. So I stood between them, my hands on my hips, telling him to knock it off and to leave her alone. I was the smallest in the class, but I wasn’t afraid to call out bullies.
And then, without a warning, he sucker punched me. There was no escalation. No pushing or shoving. It went from verbal to physical in a split second. At that moment, the world seemed to close in around me. I was on my knees, gasping for breath with my hair hanging in my face.
Some things never change. I have always been a voice for the voiceless. I feel compelled to call out the bullies. I have this internal compulsion to defend the defenseless. I am the one who wants justice and the one who will fight for it should the need arise.
It’s also true that if you speak up for the voiceless, if you defend the defenseless, then you will be punched in the gut sooner or later. Usually sooner. I think this is why those in advocacy work need to take more breaks. They need a week or two off more often than others. Those of us who find ourselves speaking up for others need time to recover from the repeated punches we take in our line of work. Sometimes we even need to change directions for a while in order to take care of ourselves.
It is not a sign of weakness to change directions. It doesn’t mean you have given up on your call or your vocation. It is a sign of wisdom, not of failure. A decision to change directions means you need to spend time healing so that you can return to advocacy work. For some, it might be a small change like blogging or taking up a hobby that has nothing to do with your work. For others, it might mean a new job in a slightly different field using your current skills.
Jeff Goins, the author of The Art of Work, discusses the idea of vocation as a portfolio rather than a job. We have a calling on our lives; a vocation. And this vocation is lived out in a way that develops as a portfolio. Our collective work shapes the overall vocation.
The idea of a portfolio has taken root in all fields. My daughter had to create a portfolio for her senior year in high school. This concept is even more important if you find yourself in advocacy or creative work. It is not our job title or position that shapes us. Instead, it is the overall arch of our work that shapes our vocation.
I am understanding this even more as a pastor. We have defined the call of the clergyperson so narrowly for decades. We envision a man standing in a pulpit preaching a sermon to rows and rows of people. And, yet, there are men and women answering the call to ordination who shape the Kingdom of God in a myriad of ways. We are chaplains, pastors, professors, and compassionate care ministers. We reach out to the poor, rich, young, old, blue collar worker, executive, and prostitute. Together we do our part to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth.
I have a clergy friend who planted a church and sits on the city council. I have another friend who stands in the pulpit on Sundays preaching to rows of people and does something with cars during the week. I have several clergy friends who teach elementary students Monday through Friday and shepherd a congregation at the same time. But I also have clergy friends who run homeless shelters for battered women. And clergy friends who meet indiscriminately in coffee shops as they share the Good News with anyone who will listen.
Listen, your call, your vocation is going to look different from mine. And it will look different tomorrow than the first year you began. I have always had a compulsion to be a voice for the voiceless. But that may take its shape in different ways over the course of my life. The same is true for you. If you are being true to the call, then don’t worry about the title. Just keep doing the work.