“Whether we like it or not, we are a product of our environment,” said George Pappas–one of our Mission Directors–during his Formation talk entitled Our Vocation and the Disney Generation. Even if we try our best to be “in this world but not of it,” we can’t help but learn from our surroundings, and one of the lessons it teaches is this: if you aren’t burnt-out, in-over-your-head, non-stop busy, something’s wrong with you.
I was shocked to learn recently that–surprise, surprise–America is an exception to the rest of the world when it comes to our perception of workaholicism. (Yes, I just made that word up.)
“The United States is the only advanced economy in the world that does not guarantee its workers paid vacation. European countries establish legal rights to at least 20 days of paid vacation per year, with legal requirements of 25 and even 30 or more days in some countries.”
In America, you’re labeled as lazy, idle, incapable, and weak if you aren’t working non-stop. As a result, today’s generation has begun to worship productivity and idolize the workaholic–and we Christians aren’t immune to the sickness.
I find it odd that the Pope would need to address something so simple as this:
“Together with a culture of work, there must be a culture of leisure as gratification. To put it another way: people who work must take the time to relax, to be with their families, to enjoy themselves, read, listen to music, play a sport.”
I see this frequently in my work with the students at Texas State. One of the girls in my Household shared her experience.
“Beginning of this semester, I realized that everyone around me was busier than I was. I started to feel like I wasn’t good enough because I had so much free time, since I didn’t have more than twelve hours of classes, or a job, or somewhere to be all the time. I had thought of filling all my free time with leisure and things I like to do but I felt like it was wasting time because I wasn’t doing anything to benefit anybody else. I felt like I had to be doing something “productive” or “successful,” something that most people would be looked up to for. I didn’t feel like leisure time was productive in any way.”
–Alyssa Ontiveros, sophomore
This idea comes with the prerequisite that leisure is equivalent to idleness–that it’s passive and bears no fruit. I would argue, however, that ceasing from our work is vital to the Christian life, and this busy mindset has taken a huge blow against our ability to receive the Lord’s love for us.
Here are just a few of the fat lies we learn about God from our workaholic culture.
1. WE NEED TO BE IN CONTROL
I didn’t think an animated lobster could have so much influence on me growing up, but when Sebastian in The Little Mermaid said “if you want something done, you’ve got to do it yourself,” it stuck with me. What this teaches is that we should trust ourselves more than we trust the Lord. So we try to do everything on our own, with no help from others–and more importantly, with no help from God. In reality, we are hopelessly helpless without His grace.
2. WE NEED TO BE PERFECT
Similar to trying to do everything ourselves, we also try to do everything perfectly. In a world of technology that functions like clockwork (or doesn’t, to which we respond with immense hostility), we sometimes forget that we are human, not machine. To be human is to be flawed. We often hold ourselves to outrageous standards that even the Lord doesn’t expect of us. He’s not some task master wielding a whip. He knows the limit of our abilities more than we ourselves do, and uses them gladly for His glory.
3. THERE ARE NO SECOND CHANCES
In the “three strikes, you’re out” culture that we live in, it’s easy to believe that our God operates in the same way. However, this goes completely against everything He did and said throughout the Gospels. He won’t fire us from being His son or daughter because we occasionally mess up in our resolve to follow Him. God’s forgiveness is unlimited, and we have but to accept the gift! Peter and Judas both betrayed the Lord. Only one of them received His mercy.
4. GOD’S LOVE IS EARNED
The competitive nature of the working world follows an “if-than-this” rubric. If you do your job well, then you’ll be promoted. This bleeds into one’s personal life, too. If they have free food there, then I’ll go to that SPO party. God, on the other hand, has only one “if” for us: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you,” (John 15:7). Jesus’ death on the cross was not the “than” to an “if,” but an unconditional gift of self, one which He wants to give us every day, without price.
5. WE ARE GOD
When so much emphasis is placed on productivity, we begin to place our worth in our level of success. We are defined by what we can do, which puts the justification of our existence in our own control. Tainted by our own perfectionism that claims we can be a god, we conclude that we don’t need God, His mercy and His love. In doing so, we enthrone ourselves as God in His stead…and that should scare us.
So what’s the alternative? The story of Martha and Mary provides a good parallel for us to follow.
“Now as they went on their way, he entered a village; and a woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving; and she went to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.”
Martha is spending her time doing good things–she is directly serving the Lord, in fact! Yet Jesus reprimands her. Why? Not because what she is doing is wrong, but because it has distracted her from the one thing that really matters: receiving what the Lord wants to give her.
The Lord desires good things for us. He desires peace and joy, a full life where we can tangibly experience Him in the human context we were born into. When we refuse ourselves time off, we refuse Him the possibility of giving us little signs of His love through our community, our hobbies, and the various “worldly” things many of us have cast aside as un-spiritual.
Last weekend I organized an outing for the girls in my Household. We went to McKinney Falls State Park in Austin, where we swam, sat in hammocks and had a cookout. As I planned for it, there was a nagging fear in me that whispered, “they’re too busy, don’t waste their time. What good is this really going to do for them? They have so much homework to do, they’ll probably resent you for making them go…”
I had to swallow my pride and realize that they–also being a product of their environment–might very well resent me for keeping them from their precious homework; but I love them too much to let them make homework their god.
So we went. We left our duties behind and sat around doing “nothing” for five hours. We surrendered our control over the many tasks that still needed doing and escaped into the silence, where we could hear God whisper in the breeze that rustled the leaves overhead, the lapping of water against the shore underfoot, and the laughter born out of our sisterhood. We experienced His love through one another, through the goodness, truth and beauty that surrounded us, and it helped us remember once again to keep the main thing the main thing.
“Be still, and know that I am God.”