For The High Calling book club on
Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work
by Timothy Keller
Join us this week as Laura Boggess leads us in discussing the Introduction.
Poor girl. Knowing no other way to relieve her anger, she stomped with both feet and all her might. She jumped, knees-to-chest, to give more force to the stomping. She even climbed a few stairs to add some altitude and oomph to her stomps.
This was not a two-year-old in a tantrum. This was a young mother in her late twenties. This was me.
“Slow to anger” was not among my top ten descriptions. But why was I so stompin’ mad?
Our firstborn was on the mellow side. At eighteen months old, he generally obeyed and was often quietly content. But for a several-month period, he would not come when I said to come.
On The Day of the Stomping, I was kneeling at the door with his shoes, ready to put them on him and get in the car to run errands.
“Please come, and I’ll put on your shoes.”
He looked at me, unmoving. My blood, quick to boil, was already bubbling.
“Come here,” I repeated. Still he did not come.
I will spare you all the details (except the stomping described above). I became especially angry whenever I said to come and he didn’t—all because of Mrs. Mallard in Make Way for Ducklings.
“Take good care of the ducklings.”
“Don’t you worry,” said Mrs. Mallard. “I know all about bringing up children.” And she did.
She taught them how to swim and dive.
She taught them to walk in a line, to come when they were called, and to keep a safe distance from bikes and scooters and wheels.
When at last she felt perfectly satisfied with them, she said one morning: “Come along, children. Follow me.” Before you could wink an eyelash Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack, and Quack fell into line, just as they had been taught.
– from Make Way for Ducklings, by Robert McCloskey
Mrs. Mallard taught them to “come when they were called.” And “before you could wink an eyelash” all the ducklings obeyed, falling into line “just as they had been taught.”
My child would not come when he was called! And he sure didn’t obey immediately like her ducklings did. If Mrs. Mallard can do it, why can’t I? Frustration and anger followed, quick as that eyelash wink.
I wish I had slowed down long enough to say to myself, “Um, hello? You’re comparing yourself to a duck.”
Frankly, I compared myself to real human mothers, too. But for me, I think the bigger problem was that I wanted to look good. That Mrs. Mallard, you know, looks pretty good when her little Jack & Co. are following her in a neat line.
I wouldn’t have yelled at my young children as much as I did had I been more concerned about what they need than about how good (or bad) they made me look as a mother. I needed to view parenting as a calling not for my own benefit but for theirs. I needed selflessness.
When I started reading Timothy Keller’s Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work, I decided to read it in search of ideas on how to be a better mother (for that is currently my vocation, my calling, my work). I approached it as if it were a book on parenting.
Turns out, it is.
If I had to summarize this book in one word, I would pick selflessness. Here are some parts I’ve marked:
…a reappropriation of the idea of a vocation or calling, a return in a new way to the idea of work as a contribution to the good of all and not merely as a means to one’s own advancement. [quoting Robert Bellah]
And so our work can be a calling only if it is reimagined as a mission of service to something beyond merely our own interests.
Thinking of work mainly as a means of self-fulfillment and self-realization slowly crushes a person and…undermines society itself.
When we work, we are…the “fingers of God,” the agents of his providential love for others. This understanding elevates the purpose of work from making a living to loving our neighbor and at the same time releases us from the crushing burden of working primarily to prove ourselves.
– Keller, pages 18-21 (emphases mine).
And that’s just from the Introduction. I’m now about halfway through the book, and Keller’s focus on selflessness remains consistent. This is a parenting book for me.
If I think of my work, my parenting, as a contribution for my children’s good and not a means to my own advancement, as a mission of service instead of self-fulfillment, as a way to love my children instead of proving myself, then I will be more of the mother I should be.
And I do pray that when God says to them, “Follow Me,” they will come when they are called.