As a college student, I was pretty unique in the audience for Denver Institute for Faith and Work's event at Denver United Church on September 25. However, it truly was a privilege to be among the 175 people who gathered to hear Eugene Peterson’s wisdom on work. As Eugene was talking, there were a couple things that resonated with me: first, that contentment has to be cultivated, and secondly, that you can’t just drift into a non-busy life.
It’s so easy in our culture to be dissatisfied. We always want the next thing. We think that if we get married, buy our dream house, or get our dream job, we will be fulfilled. As a senior in college, it’s so easy to look ahead to graduation, and after graduation, marriage, and after marriage, a dog, and after a dog, kids- and on and on it goes. Throw in a dream job, and then life is good. But this isn't how life actually works. A common theme in my table’s discussion last night was that there’s always something more to attain. It’s always easy to think that there is something better out there and that this work is simply a stopgap measure. Vocational discontent runs rampant in our culture. So how do we learn contentment? What does it look like for me to be content with where I’m at as a student, while at the same time making sure that I set goals and don’t simply succumb to laziness? What does it look like in the variety of jobs in the workforce?
As Eugene Peterson noted, circumstances are never ideal in work. However, the Christian faith has a way to approach life- and work- that does not depend upon the external circumstances. Though it is hard, Christians must incrementally develop a vocational identity in their work. We must see how our work participates in creation, how it leads to cultivation and human flourishing. Peterson advises us to appreciate what our work has for us, and though this will be a journey, recognizing this is a good starting point.
The second topic that Eugene discussed that was particularly relevant to me was busyness. His no-nonsense questions: “Why are you so busy? Don’t you have any control over what you’re doing?” forced me to reexamine how I spend my time. Often, I become so focused on tasks that I forget to invest in the people who are right in front of me. Peterson noted that one of the functions of Sabbath is to deliberately say no, to enter into a rhythm of work and rest. He said that busyness is probably the most vocation-destroying condition that there is. Yet, I fill my days to the brim, trying to squeeze the most possible productivity out of them. I can even turn relational time into a task to check off my to-do list. I am ashamed to admit this, but I also must confess that things aren’t going to get any easier. As I move towards graduation and the ever-looming ‘real life,’ things are only going to get ‘busier.’ I need to discipline myself to say no to good things in order to say yes to the best things. And one of those best things is Sabbath, is being okay with not being ‘productive.’ Sabbath is a reminder that God is in control, that I do not have to work non-stop to earn his favor. This is important for me now, but also for whatever job I enter into in the future.
Overall, the event last night motivated me to learn contentment with my current situation in life and challenged me to resist the pull towards busyness as an idol. I’m thankful to have the opportunity to listen to the wisdom of Eugene Peterson and to consider how these very important topics affect my daily life.
Alex Siemers was an intern for us from Colorado Christian University for a time.