Contentment

Well, it’s a little discouraging to see that I only had four entries for 2009, and one of them was one line long. I apologize for the delay in the updates, though I’m not even sure if people are that interested in my life anyway. A lot has happened in the past six months. The reason I didn’t write anything is that I have been preoccupied with certain developments in my personal life that I thought was a bit too, well, personal. There are pros and cons to sharing my drama with the Whole Wide World. On the one hand, I’m not too fond about living in a glass house. On the other hand, I’d also like to connect with my reader. I’ve come to realize that life is full of difficult decisions and trade-offs, and the desires within our own hearts are oftentimes contradictory. We want one thing, but we also want the opposite thing. I want reader sympathy, but I don’t want to be categorized as emo. It’s a difficult balance to maintain, for sure. In any case, I do want to share something that I have learned recently.

I’ve been serving at my Christian fellowship for a few years now. When you hang around the Christian community, you hear certain key concepts a lot. One of these is “joyful service.” A Christian is commanded to serve. But a Christian should also be joyful. This latter encouragement immediately raises the question, How do we become joyful?

Many Christians suffer from “spiritual depression,” another phrase in the Christian lexicon. And there are many books written about it. I haven’t read any, mostly because I’m a slow reader and I forget a lot of the things I read anyway. But the reason I bring this up is that many in the Church suffer from lack of joy in service. We all know we need it, yet we also all know that we can’t just muster this joy we’re so desperately seeking. So we pray.

But our faith is lacking (what else is new?) and we don’t pray with conviction. We pray with timid hearts, thinking to ourselves, “Well, if the Lord wills, He’ll make me joyful, but since I don’t feel it, perhaps it isn’t His will yet… so in the meantime, let me just continue suffering…” My hope is that this post will be an answer to someone’s prayer, but I also realize that though we read and acknowledge many things intellectually, their full effect may not be immediately obvious. You might read this post and find some good points in it, but your life most likely won’t change until you experience the epiphany yourself. But I’ll try.

I’ve struggled with bitterness for a long time. When I’m not bitter, I’m mechanical, and when I’m not mechanical, I’m dutiful. I do things because they need to be done. I do things because I want acknowledgment. When I don’t get it, I try harder. I get tired, discouraged, and realize something is wrong, and so I ask people to pray for joy. I’m sure this also describes some of you.

Recently, Senior Appreciation Night (SAN) for my campus fellowship was held at my place. I wouldn’t say my relationships with the undergrads are very close, mostly because as an older grad student, I don’t fit in very well with their culture. There has also been a push for the fellowship to start taking responsibility for their own events, with less dependency on the staff.

Traditionally, my role had been slide-show- or video-related. With new people stepping up to fill those roles, my participation was nearly non-existent for this year, aside from hosting the event. What should have been a feeling of gladness and relief was instead replaced by loneliness. Virtually everyone did something for SAN. Even my brother who stepped down from serving this year after twelve years of service to the fellowship. Where was I?

Now I wouldn’t call service an idol. I don’t worship it. But I think in my desire to serve, I sought validation from man, so when I didn’t have any work to show and nobody had any reason to say, “Thank you,” I felt a mixture of inadequacy, unwantedness, and disappointment. I tried to work it off by washing the dishes as the others were hanging out afterwards. Even then, I was hoping someone would walk in and say, “Thanks for doing the dishes.” And that was when I realized I was depending too much on man’s approval.

It’s a concept Christians hear not infrequently: everything we do is for God’s glory and not for man’s praise. There’s a line in a hymn that goes, “Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise, Thou my inheritance now and always.” But we are human, and we can’t “feel” God’s pleasure as readily as we hear others’ compliments. So it’s really easy (though perhaps not excusable) to strongly desire the expression of appreciation from people.

Many of the issues we struggle with in our Christian lives can be solved by a shift in perspective. Now that’s a pretty strong statement, but here’s my defense for it: we are all born in sin. Our sinful nature distorts our perspective in order to magnify ourselves. But God is working in our hearts to remove this distortion so that our attention can be on Him, where it belongs. This change in focus transforms our attitude from one of self-pity and self-centeredness to one of joy. We seek the pleasure of the Almighty God! How petty is this desire then to please man?

That night, I realized that I am working for God. My work should not be intended for THEM, in the sense that I should not be serving to seek their approval. It IS for them in the sense that it ought to be an act of love for them, but there is an audience who is greater.

I’m sure my realization is so obvious to many of you that you might wonder why it’s a realization at all, but that is why I wrote earlier that “your life most likely won’t change until you experience the epiphany yourself.” It takes more than just intellectual knowledge for something like this to affect you; it takes God’s active work in your heart.

This realization relieved me of so much burden that I had been carrying, that I nearly laughed out loud. I did laugh quietly. The truth had set me free.