Common Grace, Vocation And Young Adults: What’s Important To Ponder
Acton Institute Powerblog

Common Grace, Vocation And Young Adults: What’s Important To Ponder

In preparation for the Symposium on Common Grace in Business (co-sponsored by the Acton Institute and Calvin College), I spent time with Shirley Roels, one of the moderators for the event. Roels, a former business faculty member at Calvin College, is now senior advisor to NetVUE (Network for Vocation in Undergraduate Education.) The first part of the interview (found here) focused primarily on the upcoming symposium.

Roels now works primarily with young adults, and we spent time talking about vocation, spiritual life, business and how young adults think about these concepts.

Many young people today struggle with things like student debt and being employed after graduation. How does that impact both their view of vocation and their spiritual life?

Some students become very paralyzed by this fear that if I don’t pick the right thing in college, I’m going to graduate, I’m not going to get a decent job. I’m not going to be able to pay my student loans. I think we need to get them to think more broadly about the frame. One of the big messages that needs to be communicated is that undergraduate student indebtedness is not that terribly high. Proportionately in the United States most student indebtedness is for graduate and professional schools. Undergraduates will have some debt, but it is payable debt over time. They shouldn’t let that paralyze them in terms of choices.

The other thing is to think about vocation beyond just, it’s an immediate paid job. Vocation is, What is my calling? Where do my gifts and my passions come together with what the world needs? That’s what Fredrick Buechner talked about, “Where’s your gladness meet the world’s deep needs?” Now, sometimes we can’t find a perfect intersection of those kinds of things, but there are lots of things that can serve in lots of different ways that utilize people’s interests and gifts.

Students who pursue a well-rounded undergraduate education and think about these questions of vocation and calling while they’re undergraduates, there two things that we know from the social science research. First, we know is that they are much more resilient. If they enter the labor force in a down economy, they are able to work with it. They find their path. They are resilient. And in the process, they find really meaningful ways to utilize their time well. If they’re working in a very basic job that they didn’t expect they’d have after college, they find roots in community service that are meaningful. They find context in neighborhoods and communities to contribute and do it very well. The vocational resilience is there when they’re thinking about calling more broadly instead of just get a paid job and getting paralyzed around that.

The second thing we know is that students who get a very broad range of undergraduate education actually, by employers’ standards, are now saying that they are the most engaged employees when they actually get positions.

Some people say, “I go to church on Sunday mornings, and it’s awesome. And I have a job that I really like, but the two are completely disconnected.” What would you say to them?

God didn’t create a disconnected world. He created a connected world. When you look at what it says in the book of Colossians about Christ coming and being in all things, when you look at the early creeds of the church and saying that Christ is present in the creation of all things, with God the Father, and the Holy Spirit is operative, it’s not a world that you can pull apart that way. We go to worship because it gives us an opportunity to communally and collectively recognize and learn about God and praise God. But then the end of the service is the sending of us into the world. The sending of us into the world is meant to send us for all the other days not so that we leave our Christian faith and values in church, but that we take them with us into the places that we work and serve.

There are many people who can’t overtly express their faith at work. What do you say to a young person who says, “My faith is so important to me, but I can’t even put up a cross in my cubicle.” What can they do about integrating faith and work when it seems like the world is saying, “Nope. This is the box, and that’s on one side of the box, and this is on the other.”

I think the way we bear witness then is how we do our work. It’s how well we do it and how cordially we do it. My father was a carpenter; he never had the opportunity to go to college. So you say, “Well, you’re a carpenter for a construction company. How does your faith make a difference?” But I know that when he worried about whether or not the footings were square and the angle was right, I know he worried about that because he thought that excellence in his work and his duty to perform his work well was driven by his faith.

I still remember very clearly, at the funeral home after he died, we had people who came in I’d never met before. They told us stories about the quality of his work, but they also told us stories about how during the lunch hour, when they were sitting around, eating their sandwiches, and he could see somebody was struggling. He would say, “Are you ok?” Or, “Is there something…?” He’d inquire of people. They talked about how much difference it made in terms of those relationships at work. I don’t think that calling is always necessarily big and fancy. It’s not even necessarily dramatic. Sometimes it’s in how we do our work, doing it well, and how we take care of the people in the environments in which we serve. That’s where I think a lot of quiet faithfulness and response to God’s call really happens.

The Symposium on Common Grace in Business is October 31 at Calvin College. Information and registration can be found here.

Elise Hilton

Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.