You've been stuck in a rut at work for years and you're frustrated. You've read books on vocational calling, contemplated WORLD Magazine's advice, taken assessment tests, pored over Scripture, prayed ceaselessly, searched job banks and want ads, and . . . nothing changes. What should you do?
To complicate the situation, you're middle-aged and you've got children. They love their school, church, and community. Your spouse is active and plugged into a good group of friends. You've built a stable home and don't want to leave your area. And forget about a new challenge at your current employer, there's no room for advancement. You've thought about running out the clock until you retire, mired in mediocrity. But that's 15 to 20 years away!
Think you're alone? There are about 40 million Americans who are 45 to 55 years old. We're right to be frustrated with God when we're not able to use our gifts fully for the Kingdom . . . right?
Wait a moment, friend. Is there a spiritual problem associated with our frustration? Does the American Christian's idea of vocational pursuit-always reaching for the next Kingdom challenge-stride too closely to the spiritual foul line? In our striving, are we coveting? Do we lack contentment?
We can find inspiration in the writings of 19th century slaves like Frederick Douglass. A skilled ship caulker, Douglass, a Christian, escaped slavery to New Bedford, Mass.: "I found employment, the third day after my arrival, in stowing a sloop with a load of oil. It was new, dirty and hard work for me; but I went at it with a glad heart and a willing hand. I was now my own master. It was a happy moment, the rapture of which can be understood only by those who have been slaves. It was the first work, the reward of which was to be entirely my own." Douglass was content even though he wasn't employing his skills to their limit.
Shortly thereafter Douglass pursued a job as a caulker but experienced prejudice when white men refused to work with him. "Finding my trade of no immediate benefit," he wrote, "I threw off my caulking habiliments, and prepared myself to do any kind of work I could get to do." It appears that Douglass found contentment in his unfortunate circumstances.
Writing about contentment in his book Rescuing Ambition, Dave Harvey says, "When God acts contrary to our will, disappointment is understandable. But when our desires go unfulfilled and disappointment begins to define us, something else is afoot. It's called discontentment." He adds, "We aspire to something that seems perfectly legit, but God seems to bail on his part of the bargain. So we stew in self-pity and wonder why God is so sloppy in the way he does business. Discontentment is a herald announcing that there was more to our ambitions than noble aspirations."
According to Harvey, when we're discontent we should search our hearts to determine if we are coveting. Harvey suggests that we be like the Apostle Paul and be content in all things (Philippians 4:11): "Contentment means being satisfied and at peace with God's will in all situations. It's a state of the soul where your desires conform to wherever you find yourself."
Friend, according to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, the 10th Commandment requires "full contentment with our own condition, with a right and charitable frame of spirit toward our neighbor, and all that is his."
Frustrated with your job and middle-aged, what should do you do? Ask God for contentment. It too is our calling.