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Parent conversations: What is vocation? How does it apply to parenting?

As a parent, it’s easy to get mired down in the day-to-day routines and the mundane details and forget that what we are doing is an important honor. One of my favorite visuals comes from Holy Hen House. It’s a coffee mug that has the word Housework crossed out and replaced by the phrase Kingdom work. That’s a real attitude shift and turns the focus from self-pity and “I have to” to honor and “I get to.” Michael Berg shares more examples like this to remind us that being a parent is a vocation and that all Christians have the opportunity to serve in many vocations—and to support others as they serve in their vocations. That might look different amongst individual families, but the motivation to serve in love is the tie that binds us.

— Nicole Balza


THE WORD VOCATION means calling. It is when God calls a Christian to a neighbor relationship. Everybody has multiple stations in life (e.g., mother or accountant). Those stations become callings when the Christian is called to serve a neighbor in that station. There is always a call from God and always a neighbor to serve.

Think of Paul’s words to the Ephesians, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (2:8-10). Not only are sinners saved by grace, but we also are used by God to love the world. We are free from the impossible burden of pleasing God and free for loving our neighbor. If we are so secure in the love of Christ that we do not have to do anything to please him, what are we to do with all of our time and energy? Love!

As parents we are placed into a divine equation: God’s love through us to our children. God wants our children to be adored, educated, loved, disciplined, and encouraged, and he uses us for this divine task. He chooses us to carry out good deeds he planned in advance. It is our highest honor. In all of our vocations (church member, citizen, our day-to-day occupation), we are lifted to a high degree. There is nothing below us. All tasks are above us because they are God’s work. Martin Luther famously said that the angels rejoice in heaven when a father changes a dirty diaper. Of course they do. Changing diapers is God’s work.

Doesn’t this change our outlook on life? First, we are free from pleasing God. Second, we are also free from finding our value in the mere accolades of this world. What award or promotion could ever compare to the fact that we are doing God’s work? Even if the rest of the world sees our work as demeaning or menial, God doesn’t. Third, we are honored as God puts his mask on us to love the world. Who feeds the world—the farmer and grocer or God? The answer is “Yes!” We are a part of God’s economy of love.

But doesn’t this also seem like a heavy burden? I suppose it is. Who are we to carry out such monumental tasks? But God has our backs. Just think about the countless people God uses to serve you in their vocations: the farmer, grocer, and FDA inspector who feed you; the architect, carpenters, electricians, and others who built your home. The list is endless. The love you give will never be equal to the love you receive. The work will get done. It will.

We are also free from trying to justify ourselves. We tend to see virtue in a curved inward way. We are patient. We are hard-working, etc. It is virtue for the sake of virtue. Or, to put it theologically, sanctification (our love of good deeds) for the sake of our sanctification. But our virtue is not for ourselves but for our neighbors.

Let me ask you a question: “Do you have a cleaning service?” If not, why not? Imagine yourself as a parent in a typical family. It’s a busy lifestyle. You come home on a Thursday evening. The mail is stacked up, and so are the e-mails. The laundry is piled three feet high. But you don’t have time to think about that now because you have somewhere to be. You can’t remember where, but you know it is somewhere important. Flute lessons? Youth group? You’ll have to check the schedule and round up the kids, who are already exhausted but paradoxically pent up with energy from the school day. Off you go again, buying fast food on the way because a home-cooked meal is a luxury you simply do not have time to consider.

If we are so secure in the love of Christ that we do not have to do anything to please him, what are we to do with all of our time and energy? Love!

Now, wouldn’t it be nice to come home to discover that some of those stresses were gone? Laundry folded, windows cleaned, dishes put away? Maybe even just once a month. Wouldn’t that stress relief help your marriage? Wouldn’t it make you a bit more patient with the children? Wouldn’t your waistline benefit from one less greasy burger? Just once a month. It wouldn’t cost that much.

parent convo sidebar with book VocationSo why don’t you hire a cleaning service? “Because we clean up our own messes” is sometimes the answer. It’s a pride thing. More than that, it is a “curved-inward” thing—a self-justifying thing. I do my own work. I am not some soft trust-fund kid. I am independent. I. I. I. We turn our work from a gift to us (we have purpose in life) and a gift from God to others (vocation to our neighbor) into an avenue of self-justification.

Now let’s look at the situation through the lens of vocation. I am a father. I am stretched thin. We all are. If I am curved inward, I look at work around the house and say, “I’ll do it myself” with more than a tinge of self-pity. But if I am curved outward, and I see the benefit my marriage and my family might gain from me being a little less stressed out and not so busy, I might just forget my pride for a minute and see an opportunity for love. It doesn’t have to be about hiring a cleaning service, of course. It can be anything: paying for an oil change, hiring an accountant at tax time, mowing the lawn. Maybe I don’t need to fix the plumbing myself.

Everybody’s financial situation is different, of course, and some things we cannot afford, but still, wouldn’t it help not only your family but also the personal economy of whomever you hire? Nobody is purely self-sufficient anyway. We depend on scores of people carrying out their vocations. We do not and cannot do it all. You don’t churn your own butter, do you? So why not consider hiring a cleaning service?

Through the lens of vocation, we see that God serves us. It is a gift we need not feel guilty about. We are free. We also see the gift of love God gives others through us, especially our children and our spouses. Even though we will mess it up, it is still God’s love. The work will get done. It will. It’s his work. What an honor it is just to be a part of his work and to receive his love through others.

Authors: Multiple authors
Volume 108, Number 6
Issue: June 2021

Nicole Balza
Latest posts by Nicole Balza (see all)
Michael J. Berg
Latest posts by Michael J. Berg (see all)

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