A New Finish Line

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Is “busyness” the enemy? What is it that causes me to idolize my workaholism? Am I one of those people wired to overexert myself? Can I not just stop this? Is it better to choose the monastic life and walk away from all of it? To, like Anthony, run to the desert and leave all the chaos behind? Would that not merely be escapism of a different form?

I wrote yesterday I use my work to escape from my “real” problems. This idea of being a monk was always interesting to me except the celibacy thing. I very much enjoy being married and love my wife deeply. Yet, there is something about this idea of the desert that interests me. I love the idea of the recluse. That the stresses of money, the pressure of victory, and the obsession with power are set aside for a return to solitude and silence. That out of silence comes the power to speak truth. That out of solitude we learn to love a true and beautiful community. This also causes us to abhor the sales pitch (in any form) and loathe communal gatherings centered on lies. For more on this, read Wendell Berry’s “Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community” here is a chapter if you are interested:

 Wendell Berry on resistance Wendell Berry

It sounds good, but I am too afraid to breach such a life. To step out of the common flow – the status quo. To act as though I do not enjoy being in positions of power would be a lie. To speak as if I were not selling you on me and immediately checking the “stats” on this blog after posting. I think this is why the writer of Ecclesiastes calls everything “Absurd” or “Vanity.” In the end, all that we endlessly strive for carries no weight to bring sustained happiness. I find a lot of hope in being able to call this absurd. There is no amount of success, power, or money that guarantees peace of mind. This is what shakes me mentally, emotionally, and spiritually to go for something bigger. Something more real – though harder to find.

This is why I want to work so hard to do away with my workaholic nature.

I know that my obsession cannot heal me, yet I use it as though it could.

I do not think that hard work is to be degraded. Nor do I think that hard work is to be seen as unhelpful. I think that hard work deserves respect. I believe hard work is a virtue.

This is where it gets choppy. I have confused hard work with incessant work, unceasing work, neverending work. Like Sisyphus, I feel like I must push the boulder. The difference is that Sisyphus knew he was being punished. I have relegated myself to the punishment reserved for the one who thought his cleverness exceeded that of Zeus. In another step into my own Sisyphus existence, I feel as though the finish line constantly moves. There is no finality.

I can never achieve what is set before me by me. There is no true victory. There is no final accomplishment. The mountain gets higher. The final push does not complete the task. Rather, the final push which ought to bring glory only yields despair and emptiness. The final push is what reminds me that contentment is not found in having more stuff. Contentment is not found in one hour of counseling, nor in one blog post. Contentment is like nailing pancake batter to the wall – it will always slip away.

This is why I love Paul’s letter to the Philippians so much. In Philippians 4.13 he tells them that he can do all things through Christ, but do you remember what caused him to say this? It was not the miracles he had seen or done, nor was it how many times his life was spared. It was not the people he had baptized, nor was it his renown in the early church. He says all of that he “counts as loss (chapter 3).” No, for Paul it was, “to learn the secret to be content in any situation” this is the idea that causes Paul to burst forth “I can do all things…” He learned how to be content.

Contentment must become the finish line. Contentment is entirely internal yet simultaneously communal. Contentment builds healthy boundaries and creates healthy spaces for growth. Contentment, not cash. Contentment, not power. Contentment is something that Anthony sought in the desert. Contentment cannot be found in the status quo. Contentment is found in the deepest places of the self. Contentment is, to quote Paul, learning to live with plenty or little. Contentment does not envy. Contentment does not boast. Jesus called his disciples to a life of contentment. A life lived within and through one’s deepest calling.

This is where Sisyphus could learn to step aside from the boulder of damnation and join in the creating of a new world. A world where the rat race and cutthroat existence we all feel no longer wins.

We have all felt like Sisyphus, but rarely have we felt like Paul. I think Jesus was the most content person to ever live. I am encouraged by 2,000 years of people choosing contentment over vanity. From what I can tell, people who are actually content find it because they are able to see the world in a new way. They do not subscribe to the teaching of Fox News or CNN. Rather, they are those who Fred Rogers called the “helpers.” Those who out of their deepest selves are always helping in times of chaos or pain. They do not ask “why should I help?” They jump right into the action.

I have much more to say, but I do not want this to go over 1,000 words.

I hope you have a blessed day. I will write more tomorrow.

Grace and Peace,

Reid

P.S. How can we create a new finish line?

 

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