Facing the World

Everything Will Be Okay

There is something about facing the world that cuts to the very core of each one of us. Our humanity trembles and quakes at the potential for loneliness, pain, failure and lack of meaning. There is no level of security that truly comforts us. Every last ounce of love, happiness and success can be taken from us in an instant. Even if we could perfectly secure all our loved ones and possessions, a change in our temperament or a sudden feeling of emptiness could render them all worthless. It doesn’t matter what season of life it is—there are days when facing the world seems utterly pointless and utterly depressing.

I’ve experienced many moments when I stopped caring about whatever I was doing. I gave up my pursuit of even the simplest goals, collapsed into a chair or a bed, and told myself that everything would be okay in the end.

“Everything will be okay.” That phrase is precious. From movies to pop songs to moments of silence in the darkest places, we attempt to convince ourselves that there is ultimately nothing to worry about. But will everything really, truly, be okay?

The Christian always has the option of answering this question with a heartfelt “yes.” By placing trust in something that is not subject to the uncertainties of life, he plays a trump card. Barring the uncertainty inherent in faith itself, the belief in life after death negates the threat of catastrophic upheaval in this life. A belief that can provide this kind of consolation seems priceless at best and harmless at worst. Yet I’m convinced that those of us in the evangelical church have mishandled this belief and, failing to tend it properly, are reaping a bad crop. I hypothesize that the Christian belief in higher purposes, and possibly even heaven, has been handled by evangelicals in a way that reduces the quality of their work, their ambition, and their willingness to suffer.

I once read about a retail manager who was hesitant to hire Christians, because “Christian kids [didn’t] work as hard.” In the book, there was no explanation as to why this might be—only an exhortation to behave differently. But it’s perfectly clear to me why Christian kids don’t work as hard: they don’t think stacking boxes is an important thing to do. Their sights are set on lofty spiritual things, which have little to do with the mundane and frivolous activities that make up day to day life. How can you be enthusiastic about folding pants for minimum wage when the creator of the universe has called you to change the world for his purposes? This may seem like a difficult question, but only because it’s been wrongly framed. The small things are meaningful, and not simply by virtue of their contribution to some grand end of all things. It is because the way of living that produces quality in one’s work, the holistic manner of dealing with life that reflects our core values and motivators, cannot help but produce something great. The Trappist monks of Belgium make excellent beer. Their goal is not to make better beer than others do, but simply to make beer as a means of subsistence. It so happens, however, that it is excellent.

I have also noticed a lack of ambition in the church. I imagine that this arises not only from a belief in life after death (what point is there in seeking meager fulfillment in earthly things, when something infinitely greater awaits you without any required effort?), but also in the wariness of seeking fame and fortune. We are to be humble; the first will be last, and the last will be first. But accumulating wealth is not the same thing as misusing it, achieving something is not the same as gloating about it, and proper ambition should not be considered solely from the perspective of personal gain. Proper ambition is a natural realization of our identity, and to believe that we are intentionally created beings is to place a far greater meaning on this identity. If it was worth doing in the first place, was it not worth doing well? Although the parable of the talents in the New Testament was a story about money, and not “talents,” in the English sense of the word, I think it is perfectly analogous. Ignoring your potential in order to increase immediate pleasure, using extraordinary abilities to achieve ordinary results with less work than others: this is more self-serving than ambition.

Finally, there is a sense in which the church that I’ve grown up with over the years is averse to suffering. Prayers are offered up incessantly for the simplest and most trivial matters, and suffering is seen as such an injustice—our faith seems to waver, as we ask: “How could God let this happen?” This is curious, considering that Christians around the world suffer greatly for their beliefs. Perhaps the aversion to suffering arises from the feeling that God is a cosmic father who looks after his children in tender ways. Perhaps it arises from believing in a place where there is no suffering, leading the Christian to ask why we have to endure this at all. For the atheist, this is all there is: I wonder if they don’t sometimes do a better job of appreciating it, and accepting the limitations? Nonetheless, being a Christian makes life harder, not easier. If you are one, you believe something truly odd—that God willingly experienced suffering. To expect that life will not leave any marks on you is equally odd. Everyone else is doing a fine job of suffering the inevitable; we’re supposed to do a good job of suffering things we don’t have to.

I have made all these mistakes myself. It is somewhat paradoxical that I have known a great many people who have shown opposite tendencies to the ones I’ve described above: at one point, nearly every Christian I knew in the scientific disciplines was an extraordinary achiever, leading my friend and I to refer to them as “The League of Extraordinary Godly Men (and Women).” They were not selfishly motivated, arrogant, or obsessed with their efforts. I surmise that they were simply demonstrating the truth of what I have just written.

Face the world. That’s what we’re here for.

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5 Responses to “Facing the World”

  1. Stephanie Says:

    Your second to last paragraph puts me in mind of John 15. I like how you’ve restated it in your own words and applied it to this.

    I could not be more grateful for you writing this today. The first few paragraphs are precisely what has weighed on me lately and became quite hard to mentally address this morning; I thought that I should put it to words, but couldn’t. I couldn’t even bring myself to try. It’s amazing how each and every one of your word choices formulated the sentiment that I couldn’t cope with, couldn’t get anything good out of on my own. This entry made me cry. What you’ve written here is of the purest form of encouragement. Thank you.

  2. How can you be enthusiastic about folding pants for minimum wage when the creator of the universe has called you to change the world for his purposes?

    A speaker that I heard recently pointed out that if you know God, there’s no such thing as un-sacred work. The more I think about that, the more I like it.

  3. I’m glad to have written something meaningful.

  4. Christine Says:

    (the ivy christine)
    Your hypothesis…
    “…that the Christian belief in higher purposes, and possibly even heaven, has been handled by evangelicals in a way that reduces the quality of their work, their ambition, and their willingness to suffer.”
    is disconnected to the current trends set by those like Shane Claiborne, the ever-growing missions movement, and folks like Katie McBride.

    Saying that Christian kids don’t work as hard in retail position as other kids implicitly suggests that non-Christians see value in folding clothes. A lot of Christians I know, BECAUSE of their faith, work hard. They work as if working for the Lord, they spiritualize everything. They’ll clean toilets and clean ’em well, because they believe they should. A Christian values-driven person would actually be the best worker.

    The reason I don’t do well with menial tasks, is because of my type, not my faith.

    “Because ENFPs live in the world of exciting possibilities, the details of everyday life are seen as trivial drudgery. They place no importance on detailed, maintenance-type tasks, and will frequently remain oblivious to these types of concerns. When they do have to perform these tasks, they do not enjoy themselves. This is a challenging area of life for most ENFPs, and can be frustrating for ENFP’s family members.”

    So don’t think that all Christians are like this. I know a lot of Christian farmers – you won’t find a stronger work ethic.

    Don’t let the type-indicator make you think that your faith is limited by your type. Type shouldn’t be used as an excuse for your spiritual state, rather than explanations of tendencies.

    Christian maturity doesn’t come from type. It comes from experience, from seeking, from time…

  5. First of all, Shane Claiborne is very social-gospel oriented, and has handled his beliefs in precisely the opposite manner from the one I was describing. Second of all, neither he nor the short-term missionaries seem to be suffering that much. Third of all (and most importantly) those missionaries you have in mind who suffer are suffering directly for their faith (as I alluded to), but my point was that the willingness to just plain suffer (hence the title) has been impeded.

    Saying that Christian kids don’t work as hard doesn’t necessarily imply anything about others. Moreover, simply observing it (as that retail manager did) doesn’t imply at all. A worker driven by Christian values is a very good worker–in theory. But it doesn’t always work out that way, and
    in those cases, I think this is the reason.

    Folding clothes was just the example I used, and it just happened to be menial. If you are suggesting that this primarily occurs in cases of menial work, and that the Christians in question are mostly of a certain type…

    Of course all Christians aren’t like that. We’re talking about averages, trends, leanings, or even just subtle influences. We’re talking about a possible way of being Christian that can lead to this type of outlook (and in the case of many people, has).

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