Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Confessions of a workaholic

Since I've been such a crappy blogger of late, I thought I'd post this little piece, which I recently wrote for my church's newsletter.

I was born with an underdeveloped sense of fun. As a kid, I was always the serious one, the nerdy one, the cautious one—the high-anxiety kid who was always quite sure there was something better to do than play and laugh. I always saw past the fun of frolicking in a sprinkler system, for instance, to its natural consequence: I might get muddy and wet.

My brothers, on the other hand, were first-rate frolickers. They made toys out of everything, and spent a good portion of their childhood laughing. As their overly serious older sister, I thought they were just wasting time. After all, I didn’t see grown-ups running around all day, wrestling and pretending they were cowboys.

And then I became a grown-up myself. My Anabaptist work ethic made it easy for me to succeed in college, and later, work situations. More than ever, fun and celebration seemed like an intrusion. If I was going to do something other than work—something I deemed “unproductive”—it should be a relaxing activity, something that would recharge my batteries for another day of work. But something was clearly missing: joy.

The Israelites don’t seem to share my problem with joy and celebration. Every time I read through the Old Testament, I’m surprised that such a creative and productive God would prescribe so many lengthy feasts and festivals. Surely God would not promote laziness and excess, I thought—but that’s exactly how these feasts seemed to me. Lots of people slacking off, eating gluttonous amounts, and . . . dancing? What a waste of time. What silliness! Besides, it’s not realistic for everyone to be celebrating at the same time; someone had to be working; otherwise, they would fall far behind on their tasks.

We modern-day North American Christians aren’t used to being told to rest, or feast, or celebrate. We set our own individual schedules, sleeping, eating, worshiping, and buying whenever it’s most convenient for us. But when the Israelites entered the Promised Land, God was surprisingly specific about how they ought to spend their time.

In Deuteronomy chapters 15­–16, God establishes a rhythm of sacrifice, mercy, worship, celebration, and feasting in the lives of this tiny nation. He tells them when to cancel debts, free servants, sacrifice animals, commemorate the exodus from Egypt, and celebrate the bounty of the harvest.

What really strikes me about this passage is that God doesn’t tell the Israelites when to work, how to work, or how efficiently they should work; rather, He tells them when to stop, when to rest, and when to celebrate. In His infinite wisdom, God knew humans’ penchant for workaholism, and He commanded His chosen people to make room in their busy lives to slow down, reflect on His provisions, and celebrate together.

Those are hard things for me to do. What if I don’t complete all the tasks on my to-do list? What if other people at work, at church, or in my family perceive my slowing-down and celebration as laziness? And perhaps, worst of all, will God still love me just as much if I’m not working or doing as much?

Yes, of course He will.

And if God loves me either way, my own and others’ opinion of my work ethic suddenly don’t seem so important anymore.

As I write this, I’m packing up for a little getaway to celebrate Mr. Incredible's and my fourth wedding anniversary. And while we need rest, and will probably do lots of reading, sleeping, and soaking in the jacuzzi, we’ll do our best to make this a time of actual celebration—to give thanks with joyful hearts for our lives together. Who knows? Maybe we’ll even splurge and do something really fun like snowshoeing or skiing. But we’ll see. I wouldn’t want to overdo it.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Pursuit of Happyness

Note: I'm posting this because I am feeling a little overly attached to this version of an article I wrote for Seek magazine. I've been asked to revise it significantly, which part of me realizes will improve it beyond all recognition, and part of me is just fixating on the fact that it will be changed beyond all recognition.

I really try to keep my attachment in check . . . but sometimes, I act just like a moody artist. I figured it would be somewhat consoling to know that the article was "getting out there" (at least, to the four people who read my blog), and that would help me feel a little bit better about starting over again. Without further ado, I give you a film review.


A picture of poverty
Recent film prompts discussion of homelessness

Chris Gardner met his father for the first time at the age of 28. He saw him only one other time: at his father’s funeral. So when he had a son of his own, he was determined to stay in Chris Jr.’s life—no matter what.

Starring Will Smith, the 2006 film “The Pursuit of Happyness” brings Gardner’s story to light. The movie chronicles this father’s struggle to provide for his son without his wife, without a steady job, and (many times) without a place to call home.

On an interpersonal level, “The Pursuit of Happyness” offers a beautiful example of a father’s commitment to his child, and of nurturing care in desperate circumstances. But it is also a detailed look at the economics of poverty.Gardner wasn’t always homeless. In fact, at the beginning of the film, he and his wife and son share an apartment with running water, electricity, and the basic comforts of late 20th-century life in San Francisco. Always clean-shaven and respectably clad in a suit and tie, Gardner blends in with the middle class. But for him, as it is for so many people in our communities and in our churches, homelessness was only a paycheck away.

“The Pursuit of Happyness” is an important reminder that many of the people we see sleeping on park benches and dining at soup kitchens are not so different from us as we might think: they used to have jobs, homes, and families just like ours. No one can ever be 100 percent poverty-proof. Given the right circumstances, it could happen to anyone.

As portrayed in the film, Gardner’s pursuit of happiness was a fight for the right to work, to earn money to provide for his son. All he really wanted, all he struggled for, was a steady job that would enable him to have a permanent address, a place where his son could eat and sleep in safety—a home.

There are millions of people in our own neighborhoods and overseas who, like Gardner, are caught in poverty, without a place to sleep or the means to provide for their families. God’s love compels us to befriend, feed, clothe, and give shelter to all who need it. And when we do, Scripture reminds us, it’s all for Jesus.