My paradigm growing up was that you should be as successful and busy as possible in order to make the most of the gifts and skills that God had given you. For example, my youth pastor taught that studying hard and getting good grades in school was a sign of a healthy relationship with Christ. I was supposed to fill up every second of my day with something (usually prayer) that would enhance both my development as a Christ follower and my future. I assumed that career success meant God was blessing you and that underachievement or not using your gifts from God to their utmost potential equated to unfaithfulness. So I thought, “Christians should be the best employees and work the longest hours to show that they have a higher purpose from God.” This isn’t all wrong; in fact, most of it is good. But it’s a view strongly influenced by our American values. When I visited another culture, God flipped my whole perspective on what blessing and success can look like.
There was a craftsman deep in the mountains of Nicaragua. He was a renowned carpenter whose handmade furniture was so highly valued that people in the city would drive hours on dirt roads to buy one of his pieces. I met this man on a humid summer afternoon. A mission trip had brought me to the country, and my dad and I had been hiking all morning to hand out gospel tracts in a small village.
When we came across the carpenter’s house, he courteously greeted us. My dad asked the man how many tables he could make in a year. The carpenter replied, “I only make two tables a year because that’s all I need to sell to have enough food for my family.” He noticed the puzzled look on both our faces. He went on, “Why would I make more? I get to take my sons fishing every day. And every night after dinner, I sit down with friends to share stories and laugh.”
After talking with us, the carpenter graciously accepted the tract that we offered him. He said he had just become a Christian the year before and had regularly been taking his family to a small church nearby. He thanked God for allowing him to have such a blessed life, surrounded by people whom he loved and could provide for.
He had no schedule, no deadlines, and no stress about his work. He paid no mind to his great reputation as a craftsman. But my first reaction was to see this man as lazy, as not living up to his potential, not using the skills that God had given him.
The carpenter was using his gifts as a craftsman, but he also saw that God had given him other blessings: sons, land, and community. His life was about more than how many tables he could sell, or how much money he could make, or how big his house could be. He wasn’t measuring success in the ways that I was used to.
God doesn’t view work as just work––it mirrors His creation of the world. That’s an added motivation to strive to make the most of the gifts that God gives. Achievement isn’t bad, but God takes downtime just as seriously, hence the importance of Sabbath rest.
He made us deeply relational creatures. He created us to be people of the earth, intimately connected to the land we live on and the communities we live in. By staying too busy, we could be failing to live up to the potential fullness of relationships with friends or family. I usually opt out of meeting new people and hanging out with friends so I can stay on top of my work. I won’t go out on the weekend unless all of my reading and writing for school is entirely finished. I tend to think that prioritizing time with people overwork is irresponsible or a failure to obey God.
To ignore the full range of God’s blessings would be to miss out on His desire for us as His people. Busyness isn’t a sure sign of obedience, and being unoccupied isn’t always the same as being lazy.
Both relationships and careers, skills and family, spiritual gifts and domestic life are all part of God’s diverse and joyous blessings to us. God has entrusted us with them so that we can cultivate healthy lives that benefit others and that honor Him. He wants more than busyness and achievements––He desires our spiritual well-being. The carpenter was at one end of the spectrum. My experience growing up was at another. We have to trust that God will show each of us how to find the right balance.
Featured Image by Alexander Andrews