The most wide-spread effect of the epidemic has been to put much of the entire economy on “pause,” putting lots of people out of work, forcing many of those who still have jobs to change everything by working at home, and thwarting the normal course of vocations by not letting people leave the house.
The coronavirus epidemic throws the doctrine of vocation, a prevailing theme of this blog, into high relief.
True, the most wide-spread effect of the epidemic has been to put much of the entire economy on “pause,” putting lots of people out of work, forcing many of those who still have jobs to change everything by working at home, and thwarting the normal course of vocations by not letting people leave the house.
But these challenges to vocation can cause us to understand and appreciate the concept at a deeper level. Vocation is not just about how we make our living. It’s about how God works through human beings to care for His creation. It’s about loving and serving our neighbors in our multiple stations of life.
COVID-19 and the Economic Vocations
To be sure, our economic employment is one facet of our vocations. The epidemic has turned some of the ways we look at work, whether our own or that of others, upside down.
For example, the quarantine shutdowns have created a distinction between “essential” and “non-essential” workers, with the former being allowed to still work despite the quarantines and the latter being required to stay home. Someone made the observation that many of the “good jobs” people went to college for turn out to be non-essential, whereas the lower-status blue-collar jobs turn out to be what’s really essential.
That’s an overstatement, of course, since many highly-trained professions–such as doctors, nurses, and medical researchers–are deemed “essential,” and many blue-collar workers, such as those in the restaurant industry, are not allowed to work.
But the epidemic has forced us all to appreciate the vocation of grocery store stockers, warehouse employees, food processors, farmers, truck drivers, utility crews, cleaners, and, in general, those with what Mike Rowe calls “dirty jobs” that the rest of us depend on for our very lives.
Certainly, the medical workers are heroes of the epidemic. But these other folks have been called the “unsung heroes.” Those people in both categories who can’t work from home are out in the epidemic where they could very well contract the virus, risking their lives–with some having already given their lives–in service to their neighbors.
High status “good jobs” are often their own reward, though they are often accompanied by generous remuneration. Sometimes even Christians assume that vocation has to do with their own self-fulfillment, rather than serving one’s neighbor. But jobs that are exhausting, tedious, and low-paying often serve the neighbor in more fundamental ways than do vocations held in greater esteem by the world. Those who do “dirty jobs” exemplify the self-denial and “daily” cross-bearing of sacrifice for others that Jesus commends (Luke 9:23).
Certain occupations may not be “essential,” but they are still valuable. Having to work at home–teachers trying to figure out how to use distance learning software, office workers shifting their tasks and communications online–means fulfilling our duties in new ways, thus “defamiliarizing” our work. Breaking out of the routines and having to approach our work in different ways can bring new life to a vocation.