Yesterday, a sobering event.

I sat with an older gentleman as a customer. He looked like I felt. Tired, ready to move along. In being faithful to my job, I asked him a number of questions, made suggestions.

He seemed squeamish as I continued. Averting eye-contact. I had pushed too far. This is my daily fear.

Finally he made it clear. He was only worried about “getting his house in order” and taking care of his hospital bills so his wife won’t have to worry about them. He made it clear he had gotten a diagnosis from the doctor putting all monetary concerns for himself at bay.

A few days ago I began reading Eugene Peterson’s memoir. I haven’t read it since being a pastor ceased to be my job. The night before I read the story of the artist who taught him the difference between vocation and a job.

Peterson learned from artists the two do not have to be the same.

One can have a job and have a vocation that is entirely separate. The job keeps the lights on and fills the stomach. The vocation brightens the life and sustains the soul. Both are important, but they are not, nor need be the same.

So yesterday, this all became very real for me as the two intersected. They were not running parallel like when I was paid to pastor people. I knew what to say as a pastor, instinctively. But as someone with a customer in front of me, with sales goals hanging over me…I don’t know, the two stood in stark relief before me like never before.

I stuttered and stammered and simply did my best to put at him ease as he rose and told me he’d let me know if he needed anything else.

The job was glad for him to go. The vocation wished for more. the job had nothing else to sell him. The vocation wanted to comfort him on the edge of eternity.

I hear from a number of men who deal with this tension. It’s not easy and sometimes has all the psychological drama of the Scylla and the Charybdis. And we veer always towards one or the other and rarely are ever able to keep the two in balance. Some are bivocational. Some are on their way to paid ministry. Some long for it.

And there are others of us, who were once pastors only, and now have a job set apart. We wanted to escape the tension but it has followed us.

Maybe we are supposed to feel it. Maybe the ideal is to always feel the tension between what we get paid to do and the vocation.

Makes it hard to leave the pastoring behind. No matter how hard you try.