What is vocation?
The central idea of vocation is that each person has been created by God with gifts and abilities that are to be used for the sake of God’s kingdom. The Latin root of the word vocation is “calling” and the implication is that our gifts and abilities are not just for our own purpose, but are to be invested in furthering God’s kingdom.
Vocation includes a particular individual application for each of us and a general call on all followers of Jesus. Individually, we honor and glorify God by fully living out the abilities he has given us, for the good of his kingdom. This is our particular vocation. However, in addition to individual call, it is clear through Scripture that there is a general vocation for all followers of Jesus. When asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus was fairly clear in his instruction to love God and love our neighbor (Mark 12:30-31).
Whether a mother works inside or outside of the home, the fundamental question is how women, particularly those in the active mothering season, invest their gifts and abilities. So how does this sense of vocation intersect with the responsibilities of motherhood?
Investing everything in motherhood
Children are important, and in the early years of parenting, the physical, emotional, and spiritual care and nurture of children can be all-consuming. Babies need to be fed, bathed, clothed, and changed, over and over and over again. They need soothing, rocking, and touch to develop emotionally. Parents are also responsible for spiritually nurturing their children. In the midst of this, well-meaning parents can develop an unhealthy habit of cocooning, or arranging all the details of a child’s life through careful planning. This focus can result in young adults who don’t believe they can do anything independently, and are totally focused on themselves.
Perhaps children have become too much the center of the universe in our culture. It is interesting that when Jesus was asked about what was most important, it was loving God and loving our neighbor. Of course, we can infer that he also wants us to love our family, but in Jesus’ fundamental instruction to his disciples, there is a clear outward focus. If we make our family the center of our universe, there isn’t much left to invest in our neighbor.
What if our Christian view of mothering was that while we are investing in our children and our family, we are actually modeling “loving our neighbor” for our children? This shift in focus might mean that meeting all the “needs” of our children is not the highest value for a family. And taking children out of the center of the universe might mean that children grow up understanding that part of living out their faith is to use their gifts and abilities to love their neighbor. Such living might even meet a more fundamental need in children—the need to be engaged in purposeful living.
What does purposeful living look like, practically?
Investing your gifts and abilities for the purpose of loving your neighbor and furthering God’s kingdom is not a simple, linear, fill-in-the-blank life plan. It can be messy and might change depending on the season of life, the “neighbors” God has placed in your life, and your own unique combination of gifts and abilities. Sorry, no neat formula here. Rather, emphasize listening to God and fully being the person God created you to be, a unique mother to unique children.
For some this might look like simple actions such as volunteering at school or investing energy in community projects. For other families, other-focused living might mean extending their family through foster care or adoption. Investing the gifts and abilities God has given you also intersects the realm of career and use of gifts in the marketplace. Choices about money can model for children that all the family resources aren’t invested in electronic gadgets and vacations, but engaging in local and global missions can reflect a family’s “other” priorities.
What do children experience when their parents live out their vocations? They grow up with a healthy sense of being loved by their parents, and they develop a love for their neighbors. They have a freedom and confidence from which they can minister, serve, and respond to God’s call on their life—their own vocation.