I can still hear their voices even today: "You can be anything you want to be when you grow up. The sky is the limit." Maybe it was a school teacher, parent, or well-meaning aunt, but I believed them. I knew that I really could be an astronaut one day (my brother and I stopped counting on the 36th time we watched the movie, Space Camp, growing up). I really could be that member of the police S.W.A.T. team that busted down doors and arrested the bad guys (we would practice kicking in the door to the clubhouse in our backyard). I really could be the firefighter that climbed up the ladder to the fifth floor window and rescued the girl that was choking on the smoke billowing out from the tiny opening (we did get in trouble for climbing on the roof on numerous occasions).
As I grew up, I found that there was a catch, though. My eyesight is not so good and you can't be a pilot, much less an astronaut, with poor eyes. I'm not a big fan of guns (though I do know how to use one), which is not so good for the police officer charged with carrying high powered ammunition. I'm not a big fan of heights (sometimes my knees shake), which could pose a serious problem if I had any real aspirations of climbing up tall ladders to save people and fight fires. You see, in all this thinking about what I wanted to be, I hadn't yet grasped the idea of who God had created me to be. When you get right down to it, I can't be "anything I want to be" because I've not been created to do just anything. I have been created for a unique purpose.
The church mothers and fathers referred to this as vocation. In our modern terminology, we think about vocation in terms of what we do for a living, but this is not what they meant in using this term. The term vocation comes from the Latin term vocare, meaning "to call." By vocation, they meant who God had created/called you to be - what unique gifts, abilities, and inclinations you possess. You may very well use your vocation to make a living, but you may not. You may be an artist who puts food on the table by working in a bank. You may be a musician that pays bills by waiting tables. You may be a writer, a carpenter, a dancer, or a golfer, but you earn a living by some other means. They also thought of this idea of vocation in terms of our spiritual calling as well. Some people had a vocation to join a religious order and to commit their lives to God as a monk or nun.
Adam had a vocation. "The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it" (Genesis 2:15). Adam's vocation was to care for the garden in which God had placed him and to live in relationship with God and the other people God had created (namely Eve). He was to care for a creation that he had not made - to be a steward of this gift he received from God. There is great freedom that comes with this vocation as well. God tells Adam, "You may surely eat of every tree of the garden," (Genesis 2:16). You can enjoy, feast, run and play. There is but one limit, however. There is one tree that you must not eat of, one rule that you must follow, one command you must obey.
What do you mean one tree - I thought I could eat from ay tree? What do you mean that my eyes aren't good enough to be an astronaut? What do you mean that my scores aren't good enough to get into medical school? What do you mean that I'm not strong enough or fast enough to pass the physical examination? I can be anything that I want to be! I can do anything I want to do! I live in the United States of America - the land of the free, the home of the brave. What do you mean that there are rules that I still have to follow? I thought that Jesus came to set me free, that he came to give me abundant life - what do you mean that I have to follow these laws?
The temptation of the serpent is to question the vocation of our first parents, to question God's command, to question God's goodness (God is just holding out on you). We hear the serpent's subtle voice time and again, "Did God really say...?" In our society, we have elevated this idea of freedom and choice to idolatrous levels. I get to decide what I want to do. I get to decide what is best for me. I get to decide what is right and what is wrong. I, I, I. Me, Me, Me. It's at the very center of Adam and Eve's temptation and it's at the heart of all our subsequent temptations (you will be like God). It's at the very heart of this season of Lent - dying to self and coming alive to the one who created us, who gifted us, and who called us. By surrendering the freedom to choose any life and embracing God's life for us, we just may find the real freedom our souls so richly desire.
Prayer: God, You created me. You know me. You have given me gifts and abilities. You have called me and given me a vocation. Help me to discover that call and find the freedom of living it out. Keep me from the temptation to make freedom an idol in my life and to find my satisfaction in You alone. Amen.