I have been wanting to write a post about how the first two weeks of teaching have gone for me. There are the obvious bits: I am so unbelievably tired; I already love my kids so much; my feet have never been so sore; this generation does not know how to write a sentence; teaching is tricky; and lesson planning was invented by the devil to give me panic attacks.
But this blog post is not actually about any of these things. It is about vocation.
Have you ever heard the phrase “Vocation is where your greatest love meets the world’s greatest need”? I have. Repeatedly. At so many retreats and in so many deep and anxiety-ridden conversations about “WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO WITH MY LIFE?!”. And I have always found it vaguely comforting, but also pretty unsatisfying.
I love a lot of things. How am I supposed to know which of those things is my “greatest love”? Heck, the only reason I got away from college with a single major (or a major at all) was that my other “greatest (academic) love”, was not an option for a full major, just a concentration. (Concentration is UD for “minor”.) After graduating I still hadn’t decided on anything, so I spent all last year testing out the possibility of music as a career – Woohoo Opera! The whole time, I was hoping either that the heavens would open tell me that I was a musical genius who could skip the whole grad school thing and go directly to awesome, OR that I would suddenly realize that I didn’t love music as much as I thought I did…
So, I got a job teaching English. (This isn’t me settling. Like I said- I love many things.) Two weeks in, I can tell you that at least for this time, I am EXACTLY where I am supposed to be. Not because the heavens opened. Not because anyone has told me that I have already changed their life or the way they think about literature. And definitely NOT because my strengths are perfectly suited to teaching.
No. I am supposed to be a teacher right now because all of my most annoying quirks are somehow a good thing for teaching.
For example: I think out loud and in conversations. The only reason my blog posts ever get to points (if they do get to points), is that I am mimicking my own natural speech pattern and imagining that I am talking to my most patient and intelligent friends.
To see the real weakness of this attribute, I offer up my Worst Summer Job Ever. I worked in a cubicle. I got to sit and write and edit and think up new and exciting things for a non-profit company to do marketing-wise to better serve their clients. To some people this is the good life.
I wanted to die. There are no words for the misery I experienced. I felt so alone, and so stupid, and so incapable of original thought, and so far from God’s plan for me. My absolute dependence on the ideas and feedback of others was crippling.
Not so in teaching. My desperately relational form thought, somehow makes me responsive to the confusions and thoughts of my students without realizing it. It makes me completely comfortable with asking for help from more experienced teachers. It makes me intensely aware of how much of my continued sanity – ALL OF IT!- I owe to the generosity of others. Because of this weakness, I am actively aware every day of the the community that surrounds me… even when I want to duct-tape my students to their chairs just to make them sit still.
For another example: if Reesa is the quintessential ENFP, I am textbook ENFJ For now we are going to focus on the J part.
The big difference between Teresa’s P and my J is that where she dwells in and thrives on possibility (specifically the possibility for perfection), I am a closure-fiend.
To make it clear – Js consider time as a finite quantity. As in: you can run out of time. That means that, however perfection obsessed a J may be, “Good enough” will always be “Good Enough”. So long as it is on time. I could not care less about the possibility of perfection. Frankly, if the choice is between a perfect action that takes more time and a mediocre one that I can stamp as “DONE,” I will take the mediocre one every single time.
Because of this, I love deadlines. Now, those of you with any knowledge of what it is like to teach might be thinking: “Hang on, teaching is a continuous action. Teachers are always grading, planning, prepping, grading some more, prepping some more, tweaking the lesson plans, grading EVEN MORE, imagining exciting projects, etc…Teachers. Are. Never. Done.”
You . Are. Not. Wrong. So, in order to not go screaming off the deep-end in this wasteland of non-closure, I delight in my own little deadlines: turning in lesson plans before the weekend, entering a massive stack of grades into my grade book, finishing comments on all of my little (or not so little) ones’ essays. Basically, I become the single-minded speed demon of grading.
My pathological obsession with closure (which sabotaged all my professors’ faith in my proof-reading skills, and caused me to turn in more than a few sub-par papers just for the joy of turning in something) means that, so far, I am not behind in grading.
So because, in addition to being closure-fiends, ENFJs (and the other iNtuitive Feelers) are pattern obsessed: I will now make the argument that my particular isolated experience of vocation is part of a pattern in God’s creation.
My current theory on vocation, which may easily be replaced tomorrow when I encounter the massive stack of in-class-essays that I have to grade, is as follows:
Vocation is where our greatest love meets the world’s need. However, that is not enough. God is not satisfied with just using our strengths for the good of the world. He does not just embrace and transfigure our most beautiful and perfect qualities – the ones that we want to share (or if you are as performer-y as I am, show-off).
No. He sees, embraces, transfigures, and uses the embarrassing bad habits, the weaknesses, the weird ticks, the irrational dislikes, and especially the sufferings that plague our short little lives. He allows our weaknesses to fill the world’s need. And because we know them to be weaknesses, when they are suddenly useful and good, it is much harder to say, “Oh yeah! That victory right there? That was all me.”
After a few minutes of “…What? … How did that just… What?”, occasionally we can move into “Someone was protecting me, standing with me, and using me to the betterment of the world, though I knew nothing of it.”
I could list off a fair number of holy people to prove this point…
However, I have yet another annoying habit: I relate everything to movies! So, remember the movie Signs? (I flipping love that movie.) You know how the little girl, Bo, refuses to drink a full glass of water and says that everything is “contaminated”?
Then, at the end (SPOILERS!), the millions of water glasses all over the house are what saves her family and the world from the creepy alien things!!!
It’s like that. Vocations are exactly like the obnoxious contaminated-water-child saving the world from aliens.
So, for those young (by which I mean probably less than a year younger than me) people who are wondering about your vocation, or what you should do when you “grow-up”: By all means, find something you love that also serves the world, but also watch for the moments when that service comes through your weaknesses. Those moments are Signs (see what I did there?) that you are not standing alone and that you are where you are meant to be. To quote a more reputable source than M.Night. Shyamalan: “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:10).