My brother and I grew up as pastor’s kids. As is often the case with PKs, I became rather numb to the well-intended question from church members, “So, are you going to be a minister, like your father?”

I am thankful that my parents understood what the scripture passage in Proverbs 22:6, “train up a child in the way he should go,” actually means. “Should go,” actually means “bent.” Put differently, “train up a child according to how he is designed.”

My mom and dad wanted me to find areas of strength and build on those as I sought to discern God’s call on my life.

My transition from high school to college entailed most of the challenges that just about every freshman experiences—everything from awkwardness in relationships to realizing “oh, I didn’t know that high school wouldn’t set me up very well for A+ work in college.” A lot was really unclear. One thing I thought was clear was my purpose for going to college in the first place, namely to get a credential in a field that was sufficiently interesting to me so that I could get a good job after my formal education was complete. To be sure, I knew that somehow God was supposed to be “in” all of that, but my mindset tilted heavily toward the practical.

From High School to College

I began my freshman year certain that God’s will was for me to become an athletic trainer. Convinced of this direction, I enrolled in the appropriate courses and became a student athletic trainer. By the end of that year, I had learned a lot, including the fact that I did not enjoy athletic training. I saw the importance of the work, and through the experience had grown in my appreciation for the work being done well. But it was not for me.

Psychology became my new interest. Being intrigued as I was with why people think and act the way they do, I took a deep dive into the subject by taking the psych major and doing four highly valuable internships. Learning this subject matter was fun. By the end of my college career I was ready to go on for doctoral work in clinical psychology. I worked for a year while waiting on Marana, my fiancee, to finish her degree. We married, and then immediately moved to California so that I could pursue my doctorate. But, like in my freshman year of college, something unexpected happened. I quickly discovered that I did not enjoy psychology at that level. What interested me more at the time were the worldview underpinnings of the discipline of psychology than the actual practice of it. My graduate courses became burdensome rather than energizing, and I began to dread what my life would look like as a psychologist.

This was a tough reality for me to face. All of my effort, a ton of time and resources had gone into me doing well in the psychology major so that I could get into a doctoral program and become a licensed psychologist. Was I now to give up that dream? Was all that effort wasted? After praying and talking with my new bride about it, I came to the conclusion that yes, I was to give up that particular dream. I did not know what the purpose of all of that preparation was, but I had to trust the Lord’s leading. To be sure, I was not rejecting the value of the education or the discipline itself. Rather, it had become clear that my life’s work—my vocation—would be something else. I did not know for sure what it would be. I was less clear than I had ever been about how I would earn a paycheck for my family. But I finally knew what I was deeply passionate about and decided to study that.

How did I know what I was deeply passionate about? I had been attending a six-week course at a local church with Dr. J.P. Moreland called “Love Your God with All Your Mind.” I was so energized by the reading, the lecture content, and the dialogue each week that I could hardly wait for the following week to arrive. Seeing that I was more enthusiastic about this mini-course than all of my graduate courses in psychology at the time, I began to wonder what it would be like to study more of this kind of thing. Marana, other family members, and friends affirmed this desire. I decided to pursue the M.A. degree in philosophy (which included a lot of theology and Bible as well) as a way of delving further into these interests. Dr. Moreland would become one of my main professors and, although I didn’t know it at the time, a life-long mentor. I had no idea what paid work would be waiting for me after I was finished. I just knew I was supposed to be a member of that community of learners during that season, and in that I found both peace and purpose.
I’ll push the pause button on my story there for now. Some key takeaways for me during this season included the following: First, in looking back at each stage of my vocation journey, something was being stripped away from me that I was putting too much security in, namely an easily identifiable job at the end of the education line. It was easy for friends and family to see what paid work would come from an education in athletic training or clinical psychology. It wasn’t at all clear how I would put bread on the table in getting a whole lot more theological and “worldviewish” through a master’s degree in philosophy and ethics. But that was what I needed—to move forward trusting that God’s plan was better than my own.

But that was what I needed—to move forward trusting that God’s plan was better than my own.

Second, at each stage I became less self-focused and more others-focused. My desire was to serve rather than to build a “career kingdom” for myself. So what? What’s wrong with being happy in your career? Nothing, so long as happiness is coming from the proper motivations. As Tim Keller points out in his book, Every Good Endeavor, the test for whether work is really vocation in the biblical sense is to ask the question “Am I doing it for myself, or someone else?” Thus “work can be a calling only if it is reimagined as a mission of service to something beyond merely our own interests.”[1] Finally, at each stage, and the last one in particular, I was able to discern my deepest passions and God-given interests with the help of wise counsel in the community of faith.

What I Learned During this Season

In subsequent posts, I’ll be discussing each of these themes in greater depth, namely the themes of personal security in vocation, service to others in vocation, and the role of the faith community in helping us discern God’s call.

[1] Timothy Keller, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work (Dutton: New York, New York; 2012): 19.