By: Niki Rukstalis
This is a sermon from our Summer “Voices of the Congregation” series.
It seems like we’re all searching outside ourselves for something inspiration, happiness,
wealth, validation, fulfilment.
Financial blogger Ben Carlson writes about this noting that according to the Internet, all you need to do to be a billionaire is: sleep 10 hrs/day, read 6 books/week, meditate for 2 hrs/day -post motivational quotes (with pictures of sunsets), wake up before 5am every day, work 14 hrs/day, workout 2 hrs/day (before work), but also have a good work-life balance
…voila that’s it!!
Obviously, all this advice just makes us more frantic, more manic, more afraid that we are doing something wrong. And likely not more inspired, happy, rich, validated, or fulfilled. Now of course, there are practical reasons to be externally motivated. My experience as a professor speaks to this point.
I must start by saying that I love my job that it is my true calling and that I am blessed.
However, it is not without stress.
Here’s the process. If you secure a tenure-track position out of graduate school you start as an untenured assistant professor with a three year contract. If you make the cut, you get another two to four years as an untenured assistant. Then, you come up for tenure. In academia, tenure is the holiest of the grails. It means job security for life.
If you don’t get tenure, you get fired.You likely have to move, go to a less prestigious school, start over. So how does one get tenure? By publishing original research in academic journals that are reviewed by other professors. Other professors, whom you likely do not know personally,
have complete say over whether the paper is published or not. And… the best journals have 5% acceptance rates.
A paper from start to finish takes 3-7 years, sometimes longer.Sometimes one paper in one of those journals is the difference between tenure and no tenure.
Talk about pressure.
Talk about looking outward for validation.
So, oftentimes, there are good and practical and unavoidable reasons to seek external validation. But too often, we assume that “success” on earth translates to “success” in God’s eyes. Some of us have been seeking external validation for so long that when we experience rejection…
By a journal editor, in a job interview, by a potential friend, by a current friend, or when we experience outright abuse in an unhealthy relationship that we can’t easily escape …we believe that we are worthless.
We take something external and internalize it.
But we are precisely wrong.
God doesn’t love me more if I publish in the Journal of Finance. God doesn’t love you less if you don’t get that job.
God doesn’t blame those that are rejected or abused, in fact, God has compassion and love for all his children particularly his children that have been rejected or abused.
God’s love is our inheritance. We do not need to earn God’s love by being successful on Earth. He loves us all the same. After all, he created us in his image.
From today’s reading: He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing!
Growing up, my faith felt very transactional. It felt like a ledger. Like good deeds went on one side and sins on the other. And there were people in my life who were also transactional.
They sort of kept a ledger too. As long as the ledger was pretty well balanced, all was fine.
But if the ledger got out of balance in their minds, I owed them.
Since people acted that way, I sort of assumed God worked that way too.
But now I’m pretty sure I was wrong, that I had the order reversed. God’s love isn’t conditional on my good deeds, but rather: my desire to be kind or loving or helpful or generous is a direct result of God’s love for me.And not the other way around
Therefore, we don’t have to jump through hoops for God to love us.
In academic language, we are all already tenured children of God. Simply by being born.
This is amazing,
This is humbling,
And this is freeing.
Our value as humans is not tied up in how much we accomplish on this planet. So what does this mean for us, in a practical sense?
Well, we know that doing all the perfect things: up at 4, work 12 hours, workout 2 hours, sleep 10 hours, AND have work-life balance… will just make us frantic.
And trying to solve all the world’s problems all at once… will just make us exhausted.
Instead, we must find a way to conduct ourselves as God meant us to; every day, with compassion, generosity, and love.
If we can find a way to do this, and do our best, with open hearts and clear minds, and not at the expense of others. then that is enough. We are enough. No matter the outcome.
We can never be worthless.
And that means that maybe we can stop looking so hard. Stop searching so hard. It’s all here in front of us. And it all matters. And it’s all God. All of it.
Local Savannah cop Patrick Skinner eloquently describes his job via social media.
In recent comments, he notes:
“We volunteer for everything that puts us in front of our neighbors;
We clear the 911 call with empathy & transparent justice and move to the next one. Connect. Connect. Connect.”
He also says:
“You’ll go good if you simply approach the challenge right in front of you.
And then do it again tomorrow.”
Finally, Skinner describes an encounter with a neighbor in the local store:
This neighbor says ‘thank you for your service’
which is nice but I always reply
‘thank you for your service, it all matters.’
She stopped & said ‘what do you mean?’
I said ‘what you do matters the same as me.’
She laughed. I said ‘I’m serious’
It all counts or none of it does’. It all counts or none of it does. It all matters. We all matter.