Commentary Search

Is it a job or a calling?

  • Published
  • By Ch, Capt Samuel J. McClellan
  • 90th OG/MXG Chaplain

One of the happiest days of my life was when I was called to serve as an active duty Air Force chaplain. Ten years ago, I voluntarily separated under Force Shaping to pursue a seminary. My dream was to one day be an active duty chaplain, but little did I know that it would be a test of endurance.


After eight years at a seminary and other post-graduate educational institutions, and the Air National Guard and Reserve Chaplaincy, the phone call finally came as I was picking up groceries.


“Chaplain McClellan, the board reviewed your package, and we want you to continue to Phase III.”


I can honestly say that until then, I’ve never laughed and cried at the same time. It was like I got a second chance at life.


Personally, I believe what I signed up for was a calling from God. To me, a calling is so much more than a nine-to-five job where a person punches in and out. There is so much more to our days than, “just making the time go by.”


I look forward to driving in each day, visiting my units and preparing for events; there is an internal satisfaction even when I feel exhausted. I truly relished my ten and a half years as an F-16 Crew Chief, but had I not taken the risk of going Palace Chase, I wouldn’t be where I am today.


My enlisted season was a calling, but when a new call came, it was louder than any critic who said I was, “crazy for leaving a successful enlisted career.”


I’ve known people to be perfectly happy installing fences, working retail or cutting hair, all of which are noble callings. They are content and believe in their purpose. People ask me, “How do you do your job? It must be hard.” I reply that I ask the same question to dental hygienists and police officers. A calling understands that its sum is greater than the parts, and even the difficult days are working toward something larger than itself.


Charles Swindoll, Senior Pastor in Frisco, Texas, says that, “When you have a sense of calling, whether it's to be a musician, soloist, artist, in one of the technical fields, or a plumber, there is something deep and enriching when you realize it isn't just a casual choice, it's a divine calling. It's not limited to vocational Christian service by any means.”


Each of us has a purpose. Squirrels have a purpose, ants have a purpose and I believe that human beings, the masterpiece that we are, have a special purpose for God and Country.


I feel that my purpose as a Chaplain is to ‘Glorify God and Serve Airmen.’ As an Airman, I am to excel in all that I do, put the Air Force first and live honestly. As a man who seeks God, I desire to be a faithful husband who provides for my family and lives a balanced life of work and recreation. That is what I understand is at the core of who I am.


If I am living those core values, I can sleep well at night; I know that I lived up to who God wants me to be.


Between my last position as an active duty instructor, and my call to Global Strike Command, I have had jobs in many different venues. I’ve been a barista, I’ve mowed lawns on the side, worked the night shift at home improvement stores and worked data entry for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. I even had a brief stint as a peanut and popcorn vendor at the Jerry-Dome.


I did my best at all of those jobs, but I knew that I didn’t have the long term passion for those positions as much as somebody who knew that was their calling. Even when I did my best, I didn’t carry the fire inside as much as the people who got out of bed for those vocations. Notice that I called them jobs, because that is what they were to me at the time, because honestly, I admit I had some growing up to do.


When I first came into the Air Force, the motivation to my job was to serve four years, see the world and get my college money. It was pretty much about me, but when travel and money are the means to the end, what happens when those goals don’t satisfy or the money runs out. Then what? There’s so much more to our lives than a job or a title and it’s definitely not about me.


Thank God at 40-years-old, my atmosphere and my patriotism have grown exponentially, especially since my Clinical Pastoral Education residency at the Veteran Affairs in Dallas, Texas. There is nothing like being woken up in the darkest hour of the morning to be with a family in the hospice unit after their loved one has died.


Taps would be played, and then I would proceed with the family alongside the flag-draped body to the morgue. Although I was beginning to understand patriotism, I believe it was solidified after meeting our war veterans, some of whom stormed the beaches of France. They were young men, many of them drafted into a war they didn’t understand, and even though many of them didn’t quite comprehend how their piece of the puzzle fit, we know that every single one of those soldiers were vital to the calling of liberating Europe. For it was the cause that spoke to the calling. 


To my reader, you might have grown cynical and jaded, merely working for a paycheck, but my prayer for you is that you will see past the daily grind, and understand your calling as an American Airman - a son, a wife, a wingman. In the Holy Bible, Ecclesiastes Chapter 3 says that there is time for peace and a time for war, yet through it all, God has a purpose for us in both times.


Many times we identify ourselves by what our career badge displays. “What is your job,” we might ask?


Our jobs actually relate to the Latin word vocare, which is where we get the word vocation. The vocare is a word which means, calling. Referencing our jobs is so finite, because as soon as the uniform comes off we transform from rank and last name to our first name/mommy/hubby/etc.


When our calling is “American Airman,” its 24 hours a day with career fields that reach out to a greater cause, and that is representing America’s finest warriors, even off-duty.


A recruiter I know told me that his ratio of walk-ins to recruits averaged about 1:150 across our nation. Yes, that’s right, 1 out of 150 cross over into the blue.


Not everybody is called to be an American Airmen, and an even fewer Airmen are called to support the mission for those who may have to turn the keys to the nation’s most lethal combat capability.


Your calling and your identity are closely related. These next few years will be filled with challenges to our identities in the Air Force. There will be some who do not want to get out of the Air Force and will be asked to leave, and there will be some who have volunteered to separate, but are denied by their commander, and there will be those of you who choose to continue your Air Force journey.


Whatever road you chose or are lead to, it might be worth wondering if what you are being called out of is something that you are being called into. As your calling solidifies, changes or presents itself for the first time it’s important to embrace that calling and use all your life’s experience to make it great.