The Eight Lane Freeway of Our Working Lives

Living life can sometime feel like driving fast on an eight-lane freeway.It’s busy.It’s intense.It’s stressful.It requires intense focus to stay in your lane.You have to monitor the dashboard of speed limits, fuel gauge and timing.You have to watch out for crazy drivers and the inherent possibility of road rage at any moment.It’s fast.It’s slow too much of the time it seems.Even when we're driving hard, we sense the need to multi-task--to do more work. To get 'ur done!You can feel stuck because the off-ramp is 10 miles away and your sitting idle. I know few people who actually enjoy spending time on freeways. When I hear people talk about taking a nice Sunday afternoon drive—they are never describing this motif: “Let’s get on the freeway where we will experience the exhilarating times of intensity, stress and a high likelihood of getting stalled or stuck in insane traffic." No, when people envision a nice drive, they are thinking of a country road where they can take in the scenery of forests, vales and rainbows.I’ve sat with this metaphor for some time now—trying to discern my future. Ever since I wrote my initial blog on this heart-felt theme, THAT (Read THAT blog here) blog has been the most read article of all time for me. It’s received the most SHAREs on social media and people are writing me; calling me and stopping me to say, “You took the words right out of my mouth. You described my dilemma perfectly.” I’m glad my own attempt to figure out my next phase of life might be giving words to so many inner rumblings. It seems many of us are restless—no matter what age and stage of life we are in. Many of us want to “reposition”. I hope we can and I hope my encouragement to simply articulate some of my inner world might help you.Metaphors are helpful because they actually help us envision and picture something real and explore what this image stirs inside. An image opens our mind and heart up more than a Powerpoint presentation can. We need more than linear facts to make sense of life. We have more than a left brain to give inform us of meaning, purpose and conviction. Metaphors were the masterful way of how Jesus taught. He appealed to the right brain to help us envision the life he came to show us how to live.  Friends, this is precisely why, the teachings of Jesus were so revolutionary and life-changing. People could actually come to "see" the life he was describing. He used the everyday symbols of dirt, trees, bushes, birds and storms to help people explore their inner geography. Jesus was brilliant in his efforts to help us look inward by using the outer world and draw parallels.When I think of staying on an eight lane freeway for the next season or chapter of my life, my thoughts do not go to a good place. I have, to be honest, a sinking feeling.   When I listen to people talk about “How much longer can I go?” or “I just want to finish well”, I picture the eight lane freeway. Is finishing well running out of gas and pulling over to the side of the loud, busy traffic and just say, “I’m done. That’s it.” Is an abrupt exit off the freeway the only way to do this? What does that term, "finishing well" really mean? Does it mean more work? Harder work to get to a certain place so that you can work again? There are many questions we need to look at. There are many rocks that need to be turned over to expose the Rollie-pollies of our illusions about work and life as well as God and faith.What I’m sitting with goes like this: moving from the eight lane freeway to a 2-lane road. I want to continue but I do not want to continue at the pace, speed and intensity I have been traveling. If you've lived so much of your working life on an eight lane freeway---something might be pulling you to consider an alternative route--a route that is more than just thinking about the grass being greener on the other side kind of thing.It seems reasonable to me, at this stage of my processing the next chapter of my life, that I and perhaps you need to sit with these questions:

  1. What is the lane I want to be in for the next season—the next stretch of my life?
  2. Where do I really want to go and feel the need to go?
  3. What would it look like to find my lane—the lane that converges all my passion, experience, desire and gifts? Then, this question, how do I take an off-ramp to get in the lane I simply want to be in?
  4. What is it going to cost me to get off the freeway that I have traveled for so long?

This thing about work is deeply etched into the soul of every Protestant. Work is a part of the fabric of our lives. We are so enmeshed in our work that many of us go through some culture shock even musing about NOT working. We can’t imagine it. We don’t really have categories or training to help us find a lane upon which we can live without work.It’s the ethos called, “the Protestant work ethic.” Well, Catholics have this too--the feeling and the need to work hard, remain faithful to be saved. In this ethic--our worth and dignity come from our work--not our essence. There must be no slaggards in the ranks. People who don't work are bums. This belief and ethic needs to be looked at deeply and it is really the work of the soul to do this work now while we are working and considering our alternative lanes. We can find where these messages lodge in our story. We can explore how our experiences of work shaped our soul and who modeled this kind of living and narrative for you? What a fascinating small group this would be—a group formed to hear each others shaping experiences about work, the value of work and how our working parents and friends lived their life out in their work.Let me just say this briefly, our worth and dignity do not come from our work.  Our worth comes from knowing we are created, formed and shaped by God because of our identity as sons and daughters of God. We are the Beloved of God--apart from our work. That's the core foundation to healthy living and a healthy soul. Miss this and you miss nearly everything.Our world has shaped us into human doings. It’s precisely here though in our being—not our doing that we must redefine and reposition our selves and our lives. Most people I sit with are afraid of stopping their “doing” because of the deep seated fear that they will simply not know who they are apart from their work. Here’s a good question to ponder with a friend: Who are you apart from your doing?Start this kind of inner work now—the inner thinking and reflective work now—before you get off the freeway—before you take an exit—before you quit-- before you start pulling off the freeway. Thinking about this now will help you actually know and recognize when it’s time to take the off ramp to the road you actually want to drive on—for a while.Take your name tag off—take your lanyard off which gives your position, worth and dignity—and who the heck are you? Who are you without your “doing”?  This kind of thinking may well be--the exit ramp you've been looking for that is just ahead.

The Dignity of the Work

work-man-at-work-ipad-numbersThe role of the marketplace worker—the teacher—the firefighter—the doctor—the small business owner—is, first of all, to be present. Through your presence, you bring a witness that it is not only you who is present but God is present through you. By showing up in the dailiness of your work be it glamorous or dirty, your presence is a witness that we are not alone—that God is with us. Our confusion in our soul is often in the crux of our soul. We think we have to become “more”—something more than we are right now. The real work of life begins when we simply learn to show up.In a world where we face competition, rivaling priorities and busyness, presence is perhaps one of the most under-estimated and unappreciated aspects to being in the marketplace and not of the marketplace. To show up in your work zone is to awaken to the realization that God has already gone before you. When you open the door to your work, God is already there ahead of you--not behind you. Being assured of this fact can transform how you work and the way you work.We do not just encounter God in our church. We encounter God just as Jesus encountered people in the marketplace. Wherever people are—God is too! [tweetthis]“Bidden or unbidden, God is present.” [/tweetthis]This adage is for ordinary people, who have ordinary jobs, to become aware and awake to the fact that God is with us. [tweetthis]There is no work zone where God is absent.[/tweetthis][tweetthis]That imaginary line that some folks have drawn between sacred work and secular work needs to be erased.[/tweetthis] All work is sacred and to show up in your work clothes and to put on your uniform—whatever that may be: tie or stethoscope or steel tip toe boots, God walks with us. We bring the incarnation of God to the workplace through our skin; our voice and our hands.When we create, we engage in the Genesis creation of making something happen—every day and each day. When the school bell rings- creation begins.When the email comes in,-creation begins.When the voice mail is listened to-creation begins.When your door closes or you enter the cubicle--the work zone begins. Our work, no matter how menial; how significant; important or bland is a part of the unfolding of God’s hands touching the world through our own.----------------------------------Two resources that will help you explore this more deeply are the chapter in Soul Custody which is titled: Soul Vocation: Choosing What to do with your life and Inside Job: Doing the Work within the Work

There's Something About Peter

Tertullian (A.D. 155-250), the early Christian historian, wrote that “Peter endured a passion like that of the Lord.” Peter’s name is mentioned roughly 200 times in the New Testament. He began his vocational career as a small business owner along with his brother Andrew and their associates, James and John. His fishing enterprise was abruptly cut short, perhaps in a mid-career sort of crisis, when he met Jesus. That encounter changed everything for Peter.Peter became one of only a handful of important eyewitnesses to the life and legacy of Jesus of Nazareth. Not only did Peter’s passion change from fishing for food to shaping and discipling men and women, but Peter’s own life was transformed—changed from the inside out.  Perhaps this is precisely why Peter is so concerned with the inner-traits of a would-be leader and outlines for us the important inner-markers that are necessary to living successfully and finishing well. Peter knows about the work before the work.Luke, the medical doctor and 1st church historian, tells us that Peter was the leader, second to none, of the rapidly spreading church.  It was Peter, not Paul, who first realized that the message of Jesus was intended for people outside of the Jewish faith.[1] He was a persuasive preacher par excellence; a formidable thinker about life, faith, and leadership; and a passionate defender of the faith against the criticisms and persecution that threatened the expanding church. In the end, Peter was martyred for his participation in the greatest movement the world has ever known. According to legend, he was crucified upside down. The world’s final assessment of him was that he got it all backwards.On the practical side Peter was married and his wife even accompanied him on some of his journeys.[2] Peter was a family man caring for his mother-in-law[3] and brother Andrew. He knew well the attempts of seeking to balance a life with the pressures of a small business against the competing demands from a family. Peter’s proximity to Jesus is clearly seen as he was present during many of Jesus’ major miracles, including Jesus walking on water, and what is known as the Transfiguration. Peter was witness to Jesus’ remarkable ability to perform miracles thus foreshadowing the miracles he himself would be doing later as seen in the book of Acts. Luke tells us that Peter had such power that people scrambled to stand in his literal shadow as he walked by.[4] This kind of charisma, influence, and leadership make Peter worthy of our examination. It ought to tell us something.[1] See Acts 10.[2] I Cor. 9:5; I Peter 5:13[3] Mark 1:29[4] See Acts 5 for this story.From my latest book Inside Job: Doing The Work Within The Work (Due for release June, 2015 by InterVarsity Press)