Til Folk of Color
Can live and breathe free from fear,
The Work cannot cease.
There is no quick fix
To solve things like this.
When it comes to Inside
And how we abide,
There’s no silver bullet,
No lever to pull; it
Is a journey we start
That begins in our heart
And goes on and on
Even after we’re gone.
Don’t fear to rest.
This is a test
When the world commands that you contest.
No time to sleep
Reward to reap
You must go out and earn your keep.
Yet with this grind
You’ll often find
The hardest working are still behind.
Don’t waste today
To you I say
Take time to “be.” It is okay.
I am a huge fan of Ecclesiastes, a wisdom text of the Hebrew Bible, just past Proverbs. It’s a book that bursts the bubble of many biblical teachings. It’s view on life is more realistic to me.
Do the righteous always get the best things? No.
Are the wicked always punished? No.
Does more wisdom or foolishness help you avoid the end that awaits us all? Nope.
Are we humans truly the center, point, and focus of creation? Not even close.
Ecclesiastes is rough on the optimist and the narcissist. It announces that “the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and humans have no advantage over the animals; for all is vanity” (3:19, NRSV).
Yet I find Ecclesiastes to be the most liberating text I’ve ever read. It has a circular, cyclical view of reality. “That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already is” (3:15, NRSV).
My favorite reminder, however, is this: “Moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil” (3:13, NRSV).
For the author, there is nothing better than this. He observes people endlessly striving to accumulate more and more, to become the wisest or richest or strongest. The realization that comes to him is that “All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again” (3:20, NRSV). Therefore, instead of wasting life in the rat race, we should make ample time to pause, to rest, to enjoy life.
“But wait!” says our culture, “That’s for retired people! You have to earn it by working yourself to an early grave! You need more, MORE, M O R E!”
We fall for this all the time. We take vacations maybe once a year. We work ourselves to death so we can get everything we are “supposed to have,” a house, a child, a new car. All the while, we miss family dinners, fly by moments we should absorb entirely, and let stressed-out consumerism run the show.
I was sitting on the floor with my son today, worrying about the fact that this is what I do. Training makes some money, but we’d be *much* better off if I also worked a 9-Whenever for a corporate gym.
Then I remembered Ecclesiastes.
ENJOY. ALL GO TO ONE PLACE.
More stuff and money won’t make me immortal. It will all go to someone else. But these moments with my son, my family? They are all mine, only available right now.
So I am letting go. This world can blitz itself into oblivion. But me? I’ve got people to love, places to be, time to “waste” not gaining a thing.
I already have it all.
Peace be with you!
When I was no longer working as a minister, I hit a downward spiral. I had to reconstruct myself without the foundation I had always had: my work. What I did became who I was, and anyone who knows that story knows it wasn’t a healthy situation.
Fast forward two years, and I have a son. I’m primarily a stay-at-home dad who does some personal training on the side. I love this boy, and I have never been as happy at a job as I am when taking care of him.
When he cries or fights, when he is uncomfortable, I take it personally. I get upset and the self-flagellation begins. I feel like a failure.
In my head, I know that babies are just upset sometimes. I know you can do everything right and they will still cry. But in my gut, I still carry old “scripts” about the “job” reflecting the character and worth of a person. I still see myself in terms of how well I do things as opposed to simply valuing who I am.
This is a common problem. Lots of conversations between strangers center around what one does, as though that indicates something important about the character of a person. A person’s success is measured by their job, their education, their pay, their achievements.
On the surface, this makes sense. We humans like to quantify things for the purposes of comparison. This is great for buying cars, but it’s a lazy, cruel practice when it comes to relating to each other.
So at this point, my personal work is going to center on valuing myself. I, Jordan, matter because I exist, and not because I am the perfect father, husband, writer, or trainer. I am far more than the sum of my accomplishments or failures.
The same is true for you.
Peace be with you!