When I was young I wanted to operate the midway at the fair. I sat in church next to my Dad and drew intricate layouts of the midway during the sermon, checking my dad's watch regularly to see if the big hand was on 12 noon yet. I can still feel the paper and my Dad’s fountain pen in my hand, see the faded watch face, hear the pastor’s words in the background. I thought I had found my calling.
As a teenager I settled on the more “realistic” goal of being a rock and roll star. My friends John, Bobby, and I formed a short-lived band. In fact, it might only have existed for a couple days, and mostly in my dreams, encouraged by a bedroom lined with posters of The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and Yes. I wielded my late father's Gibson Les Paul Junior, a smallish electric guitar with a sunburst finish, which, combined with a ragged portable tube amp, produced wonderfully fuzzy, distorted sound as I whacked my way through "25 or 6 to 4," that great Chicago song. We stunk, really, and John's Dad, who actually was the drummer in a jazz trio, said I shouldn't give up the day job. Sage advice. We recruited fellow ninth-grader Wade, who we regarded as an authentic musician. Wade had shoulder-length hair, appropriately lazy hippie-speak, and walked over to John’s house, his “axe” (bass) slung on his back. After he heard a couple songs, he promptly left, shaking his head, and we quit the band, dejected.
As I moved toward college, after a semester in Mr. Darnell's technical drafting class, where he spent more time in wide-eyed discussions of extra-sensory perception and the mind-over-matter feats of Uri Geller (who slept in a pyramid) than in learning about drafting. I nevertheless decided I'd be an architect. However, I was not admitted to the School of Design. (But ask me anything about Uri Geller.) Then I declared a major in computer science. Nearly flunked out of that, staying up to all hours of the night or all night typing out punch cards and submitting them to the main frame computer which laughed and kicked them back to me. I switched to Sociology which, honestly, was a cake walk but without prospective employment. So I took up Social Studies education. One semester as a middle school teacher's aide cured me. I decided to go to law school.
So, you might say law was a last resort. I never even knew a lawyer before law school. I had seen Perry Mason, but that's about all I knew about the law. (Well, I confess, I was picked up by cops for throwing rocks at a street sign once, but perhaps I shouldn't count that.) I’m a case study of how one can fumble through school, majoring in everything and nothing, and yet, providentially, God planted me in a good place.
I just wanted be a rock and roll star. In my weaker moments, I still do, kind of.
And yet it isn't given to many of us to have an exotic calling like that. Most of us work in ordinary jobs doing ordinary things which sometimes, by God's holy alchemy, come to extraordinary ends: some justice, some good, some beauty, some little light in the shadowlands of life. "Attempt great things for God," said William Carey. Or perhaps, as Frederick Buechner said, our "vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world's deep need?" No, all that’s all too grand, too world-saving. No, for most of us it's a regular persistence in works of small and regular obedience, of faithfulness in the little lives we lead in the little places where we live. Of love for the people and place in which we are planted.
In other words, to turn an oft stated maxim on its head: go small, and stay home, and you get to shine like a star anyway (Phil. 2:15). Don't worry too much about that big thing God may call you to do. Just do the thing in front of you. Besides, having known a few, I can say that being a rock and roll star is not what it’s cracked up to be.
Like I said, I became a lawyer. Bobby became an accountant. John reached for the stars and became. . . a weatherman.
And all that's just fine. 25 or 6 to 4.