Is God a luxury?

Earlier this week I met with a group of people from our church. The common denominator of the group was that everyone in the room – except for the church staff people – was either out of work or about to be. The purpose of the gathering was to offer prayer and support to each other in the difficult period of life that unemployment truly is. At the end of the evening my mind began formulating a dubious proposition I sincerely hope is not the slightest bit true. 

I am a pastor, but I know about unemployment. I have been unemployed. The longest stretch was probably seven months back in 1989. I remember it as being truly one of the most difficult stretches in my life, from an emotional and spiritual perspective. The feelings of frustration, of seeing hopes first raised when you spot an opening that would be “just perfect” for you, only to not even get a return letter or phone call from your inquiry; the ritualistic act of “suiting up,” getting your best motivated, go-get-’em face and voice on and charging into an interview, only to find out that there are still 30 other highly qualified candidates to interview and “we will get back to you,” to going day after day after day without even a sniff of a prospect. Worthlessness is a very palpable sense that has to be aggressively kept at bay to keep from just curling up in the fetal position and staying there for weeks. 

And so the idea of this group was that it would (and will) be a place where people can come and just pour out their hearts to each other about what is happening to them. To say the kinds of things to each other that they dare not go home and say to spouse or children.  It is not meant to be a place for “tips and tricks” in the job search. It is just a support group in the truest sense of the word. 

And so here is what happened at my table: each person was first invited to just go around the table and “tell your story.” One guy (and they were all men. We decided to gender divide) had been unemployed for seven months. Another for over a year. A third had been out of the job market for seven years and now had to get back in because of his wife’s serious illness. 

But as the stories were shared, and real emotions expressed, the conversation turned very quickly into a problem-solving session. As the out-of-work engineer told about the places he had tried to find a job, someone chimed in with ideas for fine-tuning his resume. As the man re-entering the workforce spoke, suggestions were flying at him about courses he should enroll in, places he should call, resume writing websites to visit. All were VERY good suggestions. Some touched on areas the person had not considered before. 

But as I continued to try and remind them… this was NOT the purpose of our gathering. This kind of “monkey wrenching” conversation was for another place and time. Here we were meant to be about saying things like, “You know, I sent out six resumes today and came away feeling like I might as well have spit into the ocean. I am depressed and my wife is really starting to lose her patience with me. Why is this happening to me?” 

Part of the explanation is that it was a group of guys. Guys fix stuff. Guys are all about “gittin’ ‘er done.” Guys don’t like to talk about, let alone EXPLORE feelings. I get that. I am a guy too. The other part of the explanation is that I was not facilitating the discussion as well as I should have been. Probably some truth to that, too.

But here is the unsettling thought that began forming in my head: is our pursuit of a relationship with the Creator and Sustainer of All That Is … is that a pursuit we feel we are only equipped for when all of our basic needs are being met and we are no longer in fear for the longevity of the roof over our heads? Do we believe the ability to ponder spiritual realities, to take the time to meditate on scripture, pray, and listen to the “still, small voice of God” is shaped in some way by our economic standing in the world?

I most assuredly hope not. And I take as a solid validation of the off-basedness of my musings my experiences traveling through the Third World. There I have met person after person after person who had little more than the clothes on their back, and yet who obviously knew, loved, and absolutely venerated God. I think particularly of some of the women I met in Guatemala, most notably those at the UPAVIM Co-op.

But maybe we think God is a luxury, a pastime reserved for the contentedly idle moments in our lives when we can lift our eyes above the daily grind of existence and ponder eternity.  If we do think that, we are a sadly mistaken – and wretched – bunch of folks. 

If this is our take on the time and place for our spiritual practices, we are people who have missed the entire point of the Christian life. We do not even vaguely understand the Savior who touched the lepers, who blessed the prostitutes, and who sat down and ate with the “sinners” of his day. 

I sure hope I am wrong about this. Please tell me I am.

1 Response to “Is God a luxury?”

  1. 1 Jack Stemm
    April 8, 2009 at 9:08 pm

    Part of facilitating is to allow the conversation to get a little far afield and then bring it back on point. I have seen you do that effectively. Stiffling the exploration is usually worse than allowing a little babbling from time to time. Patting you on the back is not my only purpose writing a comment, but its a good one.

    On COR trips the last year to Honduras and Israel I find the same sort of connection with God by Christians in other countries you describe. I’m afraid in the United States our worth as a person is too tied into our comfort and our American ideal of success, not our worth as a holy servant. The secular progressive movement in this country is undermining the Judeo-Christian ideals this nation was founded on. My trips to other countries have shown me the ease of being an unpersecuted Christian in the United States and that I owe so much to my fellow Christians around the world that are not as blessed. God bless you Russell!

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