What About Work: I Get To Do This

3031891-poster-p-1-3031891-the-future-of-work-4-reasons-why-you-hate-your-job-and-how-to-fix-itMy first job was a bag boy at Albertson’s. I remember how excited I was for my first day of work. I remember being so proud of wearing the starch white shirt, black pants, and blue apron. I even got a name tag with my actual name printed on the front. It seems silly now, but the whole experience was thrilling. It brought me joy and life.

Boy, how things have changed.

Human-doing
If someone wants to know who I am, they usually start with asking, “What do you do?” Our vocation is intimately tied to our identity. I remember when our church closed and I was no longer a pastor, I went through a profound identity crisis. I didn’t know who I was anymore. It took awhile to discover how unhealthy this really was.

Human-grasping
Lately, it seems we’ve begun to identify ourselves by what we consume. I define myself by being a Seahawks fan or buying a t-shirt with an obscure reference to the Netflix show Stranger Things. (I’m kinda of a nerd). For others, a Pinterest page or certain neighborhood where they live or being vegan is how they would define themselves. However, this isn’t actually living, it’s consuming. We inevitably commodify the world around us and become self-centered. The most important question about life is no longer “Who am I?” but, “What can you do for me?”

Human-being
I’m really starting to believe God is in the business of showing us how to be human. We have so much trouble at it. Both of the above ideas stem from the a belief we are not enough. We feel this incessant need to add to our identity. Imagine being at a party and answering the question, “Who are you?” with, “I am loved and imperfect and enough and scared and hopeful. Nice to meet you!”
Silly, right?
But that is much closer to the truth.

We all have a lot of growing to do in this area. How do we get closer to a healthy identity in our work? How do I get back to that sixteen year old boy who couldn’t wait to dawn his navy blue apron and name tag?

“I Have To Do This” 
It’s what we say about our job when we don’t see any other option. Living for the weekend and racing the sunset. This is not work, it’s become enslavement. Believe me, life is too short and precious for this kind of sentiment.

“Only I Can Do This”
These are the words we say when our career has taken over our identity. When we’ve taken on an unhealthy amount of responsibility. It’s what we think when the demands of the urgent have outweighed the wisdom to empower others. It’s the road to narcism and an inevitable dead end. Trust me, I’ve been down this road.

“I Need To Do This”
It’s what we think when our insecurities have had their way. With this thinking, we’ll use people. We’ll feed off the sheep instead of feeding the sheep. Similar to saying, “I need a beer.” Work has become an escape. This is the beginning of workaholism. I can tell you from experience, it will only leave you hollow and numb.

“I Get To Do This”
Selling beds for six months was the best thing I ever did for my soul. God and I would meet in this little Starbucks in the corner of a Safeway most mornings before work. I was still mourning the closure of our church. The loss of a dream. The end of a career. It was especially hard when the phone stopped ringing and the emails stopped coming. I was no longer needed. I was wondering who I was and trying to figure out if God still liked me. In the corner of that coffeeshop, I’d let surface an embarrassing amount of insecurity, narcism, and enslavement. Who am I, if I’m no longer a pastor?

And God didn’t give a shit.

I’m serious, he just enjoyed my company and couldn’t care less about what I did for him. I became sufficiently confident in God being just as pleased with me selling beds as delivering a sermon. He was more interested in who I am, then what I do.

I learned a tremendous amount of joy from an attitude of “I get to do this.” I started laughing hard with the other employees. We developed all sorts of inside jokes and encouraged each other when we missed a sale. We sharpened each other and learned together. There were hard days and things would go wrong but I found my attitude changing anytime I took on a “I get to” kind of mindset. “I get to work with Tim.” or “I get to learn from Chris.” or “I get to help this couple find a better bed.” I started releasing my grip on what I do, and began allowing God to heal who I am. This open handed approach to work gave a new joy each day. I started feeling like that sixteen year old boy again.

Final Thoughts
Since then, I started back up a career in ministry but things are different. Sometimes, I get asked to speak places and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes a lot of people read what I write and other times, very few do. And either is okay. I’m proud of the work I do at Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission but I don’t have to do it. I’m not the only one who can do it and I could do something else someday, who knows? For now, I get to do this and I want to be faithful with what God’s given.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, -Col. 3:23

I am enough.
And so are you.
Release your grip.
You are loved.
Remember, when Monday morning arrives, you get to do this.
I promise, there is joy on the other side.

Not Quite Compassion: Long Loving Look

10330444_706676049435248_8806055361896025003_nMy wife’s Aunt, Joanne is a phenomenal artist. She has her paintings displayed all over Washington.(1) I was asking her about her art the other day and she shared that her best paintings are always ones where she learns to love what she’s painting. It somehow translates through the color and brush strokes. I believe her. I’ve found when I love the people I’m writing to, those are the blogs that seem to resonate. It’s when I’m bitter or cynical or angry my writing seems to fall flat.

Masterpiece
Every summer, we have a group of young adults from all over the country join us in Seattle to learn about urban ministry. I’m in charge of what we teach them those six weeks so one of the first things we do is go to the Seattle Art Museum. I ask them to walk around for a bit until they discover a painting or sculpture they enjoy. Their challenge is to stand in front of that piece of art for fifteen minutes. I ask them to write down everything they enjoy. Every aspect that thrills, delights, and surprises them. After we’re all done we sit in the lobby and discuss what we experienced. Some of the best discoveries always seem to be toward the end of the fifteen minutes. Interpretation takes time after all. Appreciation comes with patience. Some even shared stories of becoming emotional or even weeping quietly as they were captured by the artistic beauty.

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. -Eph. 2:10

As I continue toward compassion, I’m learning the discipline of the long loving look. I’m reminding myself of the unique brilliance of each and every human being on the planet. As C.S. Lewis put it, “You have never talked to a mere mortal.”(2) or as an author in the Bible said above, “We are God’s masterpiece.” An exquisite work of art. When I take the time to look, compassion grows.

Art In Disguise
I was really proud of this epiphany while on the I-90 bridge to work the other day. I was so impressed with my discovery when all of a sudden a silver Honda with tinted windows cut me off. I got pissed and swore. Suddenly, I was plotting my revenge and how I could get back in front of him. I’ll show him.

And God started showing me.
I laid off his bumper and tried to see through the tinted windows to a human being inside. A person with a story, and worries, and dreams, and fears, and hopes. A marvelous work of art on display. After driving behind him for a few minutes I started to weep. I know it sounds sappy, but right there in my commute with old school hip hop on the radio, I cried like a baby.
I kept looking and the more I did,
the more I loved him.
I imagined he was late for work or his Mom was no longer talking to him or the night before he looked up at the stars and wondered if God cared at all. Everything seemed to change as I committed to a long loving look.

Now I’m looking for art in disguise a lot more. Interpretation takes time after all. Appreciation comes with patience. I’m not merely walking by the houseless neighbor sitting on the sidewalk. I’m looking, and as I do, I start to love him. Even the Christian on Facebook that makes my blood boil every time he posts about what he’s against. I am trying, really trying, to commit to a long loving look. I’m peering deeply into who they are and noticing something… beautiful.(3)

The Artist
I mean, this is why God can call us a masterpiece and not a mistake, you know? He knows everything.
Everything.
Every mistake, selfish decision, insult, embarrassment, failure, and insecurity. We have our own tinted windows and disguises after all. And yet, he looks closer. He peers into you and I with the most profoundly long loving look. He stands in front of his art and refuses to turn away. As he does, He falls more deeply in love with his masterpiece. He stands back and admires the unique brilliance of you and I.
He knows.
He sees.
He looks closer.
And He loves.

“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works;  my soul knows it very well.” -Psalm 139:14

He dares us to do the same.

 

 

  1. I posted one of Joanne’s paintings here and you can see much more of her work at joanneshellan.com
  2. “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.” -C.S. Lewis’ full quote from The Weight Of Glory
  3. If you struggle with looking at porn, my recommendation is to look closer. I’m serious. Pause what you’re watching and look at the woman. Imagine her story. Imagine what has been said to her. How her Dad may have treated her. Her shame and loss of innocence. Commit to really seeing her and as you do, I promise things will change for you.