Vocation: Your Deep Gladness Meets the World’s Deep Hunger

by | Oct 11, 2022 | 4 Hunger & Thirst, Frederick Buechner

“Vocation,” found in Wishful Thinking, includes Buechner’s most quoted sentence.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6). 

Below see Frederick Buechner’s definition of “vocation,” in Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC. The final sentence must be his most widely quoted by far, and it may prove his most enduring legacy.


It comes the Latin vocare, “to call,” and means the work a person is called to by God.


There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of society, say, or the superego, or self-interest.


By and large a good rule for finding out is this: The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need to do and (b) that the world needs to have done. If you really get a kick out of your work, you’ve presumably met requirement (a), but if your work is writing cigarette ads, the chances are you’ve missed requirement (b). On the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leper colony, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you’re bored and depressed by it, the chances are you have not only bypassed (a), but probably aren’t helping your patients much either.


Neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet (Wishful Thinking, pp.118-119). 

Vocation and Hungering and Thirsting for Righteousness

The quest for a calling runs deeper than calculation of a career that best meets personal criteria for interest, earning potential, skill set, work environment, prestige, and even values. While I strongly recommend serious reflection on those factors in choosing a career, finding the optimal fit will not satisfy your quest for a vocation. 

For answering a call is relational. When God called the prophets, they answered, “Here am I.” Then God gave them a task. That task amounted to a personal response to a God who cared enough to call in the first place, who cared about the people they cared about, a God who loves even when severe. Since righteousness is right relating to God and neighbor, the quest for vocation is part and parcel of hungering and thirsting for righteousness.

Vocation and Desire

Buechner’s definition reintroduces a critical component of discerning a vocation that the great doctor of discernment, St. Ignatius of Loyola emphasized: desire. Even in our consumer society with its cacophony of appeals to our wishes for this or that, we have difficulty giving ourselves permission to consult our desires about the most important thing: what we do with our lives in response to God. That seems selfish, somehow.

But Ignatius and Buechner after him say in so many words, God loves you. That does not mean God will give you whatever you want any more than a good parent will give the child anything the child asks. But because God loves you, what you want matters to God. Moreover, your desire may be God’s medium for telling you something. Listen to your heart. Then pray.

Vocation and Care

Yet, even that amounts to chasing the wind unless you care. Hold your desires in one hand and what you can bear of the world’s suffering in the other. Along with what you want, what you care about matters to God, the Source of all care. Read the Bible, walk with God, listen to what God cares about. Your vocation comes into focus where your care and God’s line up.

Ask yourself: What do you want? What in the world do you care about? Let those questions challenge you. Let those questions question each other. Hold them before God in prayer. And don’t forget: You never outgrow them – the questions, the prayer, the hungering and thirsting. 

Your deep gladness springs from the satisfaction of your hunger for God. Meanwhile, the world hungers too. Only a right relationship with God will satisfy you and the world. So pray for a vocation that answers God’s love with yours. You will find your answer. You will become an answer. 

Related Posts

Clay Jars and Peculiar Treasures: Saints in Buechner’s Writings

Two Books on Telling for Those Who Mourn

Frederick Buechner: Putting Color Back in the Cheeks of Grace

Ignatius Dreams: A Young Man Learns Discernment and Teaches the World


  1. Michael Parnell

    Good thoughts. I may struck by the fact that God calls people in the Bible but the call works this way: God says he will do it, but have to be the instrument used.

    • J. Marshall Jenkins

      Yes. God chooses to enlist the one called into collaborative action. Why God enlists any of us at all is a mystery, but I suspect it is part of loving us.


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