Thursday, May 24, 2012

Working hard at the wrong things.

Last summer, my youth minister, Matt, was wanting to get a head start on his doctoral work before all his youth activities got going. The only problem was that the school hadn’t issued a syllabus for his first class yet. Knowing I had taken that same class the summer before, he came and asked me what the assignments had been. I showed him the list of books and papers we had been assigned but warned him that they had told us that they may change up some of the readings. We pondered which books they might keep on the list. We both thought that the book authored by one of the professors teaching the class was the most likely to remain on the syllabus. I think I remember telling Matt he should e-mail the professor to make sure. I’m not sure that Matt remembers me saying that. Anyway, he didn’t. He did set out reading the book, taking copious notes, and writing a seven page paper – all just in time to get the actual syllabus and realize – that book was not on the list! All that work for naught.

All of us have had moments like that, moments when our best efforts prove to be misguided and end up having been done in vain. It’s bad enough when that happens to us at work or in school, but the potential is there for us to waste an entire life’s effort on things that matter not. We can work diligently all our days, only to find out at the end that we were working hard at the wrong things. The late Richard John Neuhaus wrote, “A life is measured by its telos. The question of how a person lived is important, but the how is subordinate to for what a person lived." For Neuhaus, as for us, the for what is actually a for whom. Unless our lives are given over to the purposes of God, our work is done in vain, no matter how well we worked at it. As Jesus said, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and yet, lose his soul?”

 Maybe we should pause and ask, “What have you been hard at work upon today?” Or better yet, “For whom have you been working?”

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

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Great post. I've been there, done that. I'm just really impressed that you kept up with your assignments so well.