Saturday, April 26, 2014

The American Rat Race

I recently read a book where the author, upon returning to the United States from a year abroad, referred to our culture's busy, production-propelled, output-focused lifestyle as the American rat race. We routinely schedule in more and more events, meetings, and coffee dates, filling up our calendars so that we must say to our friends "I'm so booked this week, I can't make it." We love running around, seeing and doing so much, giving ourselves a pat on the back for our all little daily feats. And if we haven't met our quota of x amount of projects by the end of the week, we feel like a failure.

But at the end of the week, it's exhausting. It's crazy how sitting in an office 5 days a week can drain the energy from you so quickly. By the time we get home on Friday night, all we want to do is lay on the couch, watch TV, and have a bowl of ice cream. Whew, we think, thank God it's Friday!

Sound familiar? My question is: where's the joy of living? Where is the desire to connect with people, get involved in our communities, form lasting relationships? To share special moments with our loved ones?

This has been my growing realization since returning to my country in February. As much as I love the feeling of accomplishment, and filling up my planner, I have been doubting the virtue of this lifestyle. As much as I feel that my worth is tied to the things I do (cue my recent mid-20's crisis and uncertainty of my life's calling), I know deep in my heart that my identity is in Christ. It has absolutely nothing to do with what I do: the job I attain, the riches I accumulate, the lists that get checked off.

Having lived in a culture where the focus is totally opposite, on relationships above time or work, I have relaxed a little. I've watched myself become more laid-back when things don't go as planned, and be able to enjoy chatting with friends as I wait for the rest to show up for a meeting they are already 10 minutes late for. In Ecuador, people were valued much more than performance. It was quality above quantity. This is something I want to keep with me as I transition back into life in the U.S.

I am not saying that having a schedule is a bad thing. Far from it. Being time-oriented helps the American culture in that we can move efficiently and effectively to help many people. That being said, I am suggesting that maybe it's a good idea to take a breather every once in a while. Stop to smell the roses. Get to know our neighbors. Take the time to really find out how someone is doing when you pass them on the street. How hard would that be?

So, I am rejecting the go-go-go way of living. I will complete my tasks to the best of my ability and work hard at my job, because our ultimate goal is to serve underprivileged families and sow seeds of love and hope in children. And that is a cause worth fighting for. But I will also make use of my time to rest in the Lord, listen to the stories of my neighbors, and be present in my community. And I will give myself the moments I need to rejuvenate and recharge before going at it again.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Happiness: the purpose of life?

I'm sure many of you have heard the new pop hit, Happy by Pharrell Williams. Now, I have to admit, when I first heard this song, I loved the catchy beat and the carefree feel. Each time I heard it on the radio, I would turn up the volume and jam along. But just the other day, Happy came on again, and this time I really listened to it. And this is what I heard:

Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do


Yes, it's a nice cheerful song that makes you smile. But something struck me as fundamentally wrong with this theology. Is life really all about just being happy? Is happiness the truth? I personally don't believe so.

This post is really not all about happiness. It's about the purpose of life. If we all just lived to be happy, we would make each other miserable. We are selfish beings; it's in our nature. If I lived solely to be happy, I wouldn't stop at red lights, or be so careful with my budget, or let the little old lady get in front of me in line. No one would care about the well-being of anyone else. How horrible would that world be?

Luckily, we do have a purpose. That purpose is given to us as children of God. Our heavenly Father has a job for us to do: to improve this messed up world by showing Christ's love to those around us. How do we do this? By holding the door open for strangers, by inviting neighbors over for dinner, by being aware of how our purchases affect those who made the product. Even when it's uncomfortable.

So, no, happiness does not equal truth. My idea of truth is not "being happy". Truth is something unseen, almost intangible. It's not exactly a feeling, but a concept more concrete. Paul calls faith the assurance of what we hope for and the certainty of what we cannot see. Then truth must be the actual thing that we hope for. For me that something is Christ. And living out that truth is knowing our role in life and fulfilling it with a willing heart. It's being a servant. The truth tells us that we should love our Creator above anything, and love our neighbors as ourselves. I believe that if we do this, we will find our true happiness in Christ.