Dear Harvard student,
I urge and implore you to stop freaking out about your job.
To be sure, work is good, and it’s important. God works, and He commanded the first humans to work, too (Gen 1:27-29; 2:15). Indeed, you are made in His image as a creative being who can produce new stuff and care for existing stuff. God loves your work and He wants to use it to enact His redemptive purposes for creation. He wants you to partner with Him in bringing about His will on earth as it is in heaven.
But your specific variety of work does not define you. And the more you think that it does or should, the more you dig yourself into a pit of anxiety and self-pity. In my estimation, roughly 90% of all stressing about summer internships and future careers is self-indulgent and sinful. The proof is in the fact that we get so wrought and distraught over it. If we were really just serving and trusting Jesus, we would find rest for our souls in the gentleness of his yoke. Instead, as we plot and scheme our futures, we labor and are heavy-laden (Mt 11:28-30). We skip sleep to eat the bread of anxious toil (Ps 127:2). This is vanity.
I see a few different reasons why people freak out:
- Financial insecurity. You worry about not having enough of what you think you need.
- Greed. You want more of what you think you need. (You don’t think of yourself as greedy; just shrewd or practical or a good steward).
- Social status. You want to land the most prestigious job so that people think you’re cool and successful.
- Self-worth. You need to prove that you are the smartest and/or most capable person on the market.
- Culture. You have acquiesced and are bowing before social pressure to get a certain kind of job, or work in a certain sector, or make a certain amount of money.
None of these reasons are Jesus. In fact, they are all distinctly anti-Jesus.
- Mt 6:25-33: “Do not be anxious about your life …” (ESV).
- Mt 19:23-24: “Only with difficulty will a rich person enter the Kingdom of Heaven …”
- Mk 10:42-45: “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant …”
- 1 Cor 1:27-31, 2 Cor 5:15, Gal 2:20: “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord …,” etc.
- Rom 12:2: “Do not conform to the pattern of this age …”
High anxiety about future career prospects reflects a total lack of perspective on at least two levels. For one thing, today’s Harvard students enjoy power to determine their professions and expectations for financial security that are unprecedented in the history of the world. You literally have less to worry about than anyone else, ever. More importantly, knowing Jesus matters so much more than anything else you could hope to achieve or accomplish that everything else is trash in comparison (Phil 3:8).
This leads me to another commonly-held misconception that I hope to debunk: the myth of vocational “Calling” with a capital C.
In all probability, you do not have a “Calling” from God in the sense of a divine plan, written in stone, for you to go into one particular profession. I can’t cite a verse to directly prove this, precisely because the Bible doesn’t talk about being called into professions. Whenever it talks about “calling,” it talks about being called into a life-giving relationship with Jesus Christ (e.g., Jesus calling the first disciples in Mt 4:18-22, or Matthew himself in 9:9). Note that this kind of calling is often at the expense of your professional career (e.g., fishing, collecting taxes), rather than into some particular profession.
Most of the “heroes” of the faith were just minding their own business, doing their jobs, before God showed up spectacularly, totally shook them up, and declared a new sheriff in town with a new game plan. Abraham (formerly Abram) was already retired when God told him to leave his land and his tribe and start walking into the desert (Gen 12). Moses was an exiled criminal-turned-shepherd when God announced that it was time to go free the Jews from slavery (Ex 3). David was also minding sheep and his own business when God suddenly anointed him King and poured out His Spirit on him (1 Sam 16). Paul (formerly Saul) was dutifully making the rounds as a religious leader when Jesus literally struck him blind and gave him a radical new mission (Acts 9). We could add to this list ad nauseum from Scripture. You might even know a few people who have gotten calls like this, with a white-light experience and a very specific Kingdom mandate, such as church-planting or international missions or starting an orphanage. The upshot is that if God wants to call you this way, you’ll know! He’ll find a way to get your attention, even if He has to spontaneously combust a bush or knock you on your face just talk to you.
But these anomalies are the exceptions that prove the rule. God probably won’t do this to you. And if He does, He probably won’t tell you whether to become a nurse, or a lawyer, or a teacher, or an investment banker. Those just aren’t the kinds of things He Calls people to with a capital C. So please don’t sit around waiting for that kind of direct instruction.
Most of the people that Jesus calls to himself (with a little c) are just ordinary folks doing ordinary, humble things (cf. 1 Cor 1:26). Being called by Jesus doesn’t mean that a career move is in order. In fact, it’s usually quite the opposite:
“Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) … In whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.” (1 Cor 7: 20-24)
Paul emphasizes throughout this chapter that Jesus met you in your specific life circumstance with your specific job, marriage, and cultural status. All else being equal, you should stay as you were. Why? “I want you to be free from anxieties … I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord” (vv. 32, 35). When we get distracted by the prospect of a new job or a new marriage, we become anxious and self-absorbed, and we lose our wholesale devotion to Jesus. I’ve watched this happen to way too many friends and peers.
So how do you decide what Jesus is calling you to do? Well, instead of expecting a voice from the sky, you’re probably going to have use some ordinary tools, such as asking for advice and taking stock of yourself. What are you good at? What do you like doing? Where do you have an opportunity? The place where the answers to these questions align is a good place to start. Pick a direction that looks good to you and start walking. Jesus will reroute you as needed, if you’re seeking him regularly.
Don’t be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself (Mt 6:34, cf. Phil 4:6). Instead, take his yoke upon you, and learn from him, for he is gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your soul (Mt 11:29). In other words: Stop freaking out.
Nathan Otey ’15 is a philosophy concentrator in Pforzheimer House.