“Doing What You Love”: A Human Invention?

I continue to be in this state of wondering if I want to teach English at the collegiate level or not, and I keep toying around with some possibilities in my head. There’s the chance that I’ll really enjoy teaching when I get to do it this upcoming school year for my assistantship and will, thus, want to go on and get a Ph.D. Or, I could hate it and want to drop the endeavor altogether once I finish my Masters. But the one scenario that bugs me a bit—one that could very well be a reality at some point—is that I’ll be good at teaching, but won’t necessarily care for it.

It is at this point that the oft-heard phrase comes into play: “You should do what you love.” There is some truth to this aphorism. People who are in a profession they love tend to be less beat down. I would assume they’re healthier psychologically and emotionally (note I’m not using the word “happy”). Then there’s the simple desire factor of it: Who wouldn’t want to do what they love? But all of those reasons aside, this little dictum we’ve come up with can be a bit too pie-in-the-sky.

I’m reminded of a story I read during stated-as-past-but-very-much-ongoing Iraq war. If I felt like putting in the effort it takes to try and dig up the actual story, I would, but this is a blog and not a book, so rarely will I bring in factual support. (I spend enough time and energy doing that for my schoolwork and research papers; consider this blog a research-free detox zone.) During the war, a member of the FBI was killed. A few weeks later, his sister was interviewed and she recounted a conversation she’d had with her brother months earlier. She had asked him why he chose the job he did in light of the fact that he didn’t really care for the line of work he was in. His response was, “Someone has to do the jobs nobody else wants to.” If we adopt the mantra, “You should do what you love,” then we would disagree with this now deceased FBI agent. But I think he’s onto something there. (Obviously this isn’t a perfect parallel to my situation because, though good teachers are hard to find, teaching isn’t always a job “nobody else wants to do.” Regardless, that FBI agent’s statement still comes to mind when I consider my options.)

When I read Scripture, I realize more and more how this concept of “doing what you love” is a human invention. I’m not saying God wants us to be miserable in our professional lives and do what we hate; quite simply, there are numerous moments when God asked people to do the very thing they feared and might not necessarily prefer or enjoy.

I don’t get the impression that Noah just really wanted to build an ark. Moses very clearly did not want to go back to Egypt to help the Israelites escape. Jonah blatantly ran the opposite direction from the place God told him to go. Jesus, God’s very son, prayed and pleaded the night before his crucifixion that God’s salvation and grace could come through some other manifestation of justice. Each time the answer was no.

You could say God is cruel or that he didn’t give these individuals a choice, but that’s not necessarily true. Sure, if you’re Jonah and end up in the colon of a fish, surrendering your will to God’s will in the first place now appears to be the smarter option, but even so, Jonah still could have continued to run and run farther away. If he were an idiot. It’s not quite conscription, but it’s still definitely the best option. Sometimes God has to get our attention the hard way to show us that his wisdom is greater than ours.

All of these individuals eventually do their deed by walking into it as a step of faith. These are not jobs or tasks they may have necessarily wanted or even requested, but they know they must be done, and they walk into them trusting the one who first commissioned it. Yes, Jesus willingly goes to the cross, but God was still the one deciding when and how everything would occur. It was the good work God set before his son.

In Ephesians, Paul says we have good works set out for us ahead of time and that our lives of faith prepare us to undertake those. I think we could get tripped up and focus on the word “good” too much and believe these works will be enjoyable, lovely, and well suited for us. (We are, after all, Westerners who demand (comfortable) life, (non-negotiable) liberty, the pursuit (or rightful ownership) of happiness. Now, “good works” may end up being enjoyable at times, and I think that does happen on occasion. But it’s certainly not a guarantee. Often the work God has for us to do is much bigger than we are even if it is tailored to our skill sets. Moses may not have felt like he was the man for the job, but he was. Jonah clearly didn’t feel like he was the right man, either, but when he finally moved on in obedience, God revealed the faithfulness of his promises and ability to work through Jonah. The work may be difficult, but it will ultimately be satisfactory because it is of God and what we need to be doing anyway. This concept comes to mind with graduate school because so far I’ve found something I’m good at it, but I hesitate to use the word “love.”

Whether it’s writing a research paper or the explication of a text in class, I know I can competently handle this arena. That doesn’t mean I know everything. Far from it. Graduate school has, so far, been a machine whose sole purpose is to repetitively emphasize, “Here’s how much you don’t know. Here’s how much you have yet to learn.” Even so, I feel capable of learning what I need to. Such an undertaking doesn’t bother me (most of the time). This past year was challenging, and I know I’m where I need to be right now. But did I love it? No, I didn’t. I liked it, but so far I haven’t loved it. The stress, challenges, struggles, and end results were, overall, tolerable and even sometimes enjoyable, but I wouldn’t say I’ve “found” it or discovered my “mojo”—whatever that is. Maybe that will come. Maybe it will not.

But what if I get into teaching next year, realize I have an aptitude for it (as some people have already told me I do), but don’t quite enjoy it? Perhaps this is the good work God has placed in front of me—the culminating focal point of my talents for a season. What if that’s the case? Then I guess I’m supposed to pursue that and walk through that. You follow the favor God gives you.

It’s not that God’s unjust. It’s not that God wants me to despise my own existence and what I spend my time doing. But often it can be in his mercy to throw people into situations they wouldn’t have normally seen themselves in so as to bring about a necessary benefit for others. Consider Ruth. I highly doubt she would have volunteered for such a scenario as the one that comprises her book of the Bible. But it was necessary. Lives were saved as a result.

Obviously I’m not saying I would save lives by being a teacher. But perhaps God would want me in such a role for purposes beyond myself that I cannot comprehend at this time, even if I realize at some point that I don’t really want to be a teacher.

There are so many more tangents to this. I realize this goes beyond the limited focus I’ve given to this here, so if any of you reading this are miffed a bit that I don’t go into more details, trust me when I say that my tangential mind has already teased out the scenarios you might be thinking of and believe I should have included. (Thoughts like, “Why be a teacher if you don’t like it? Why would you sacrifice kids’ educations like that? Isn’t that just selfishness? Are you so pompous to consider only God and not the humanity you influence around you?” There are many, many more tangents, so if you think this has been a ridiculous process of thought full of holes and you feel the need to call me out on that, I will politely ask you to save your breath. I’ve considered the myriad scenarios even if they aren’t all included here.)

But this is all conjecture. I won’t even begin teaching my own classes until August, so we’ll see how it goes then. Regardless of the outcome, it will be an interesting experiment to say the least.

Much love.

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