Almost thirteen years ago, my wife and I took a herd of young adults down to San Diego at Christmas time to the Campus Crusade Winter Conference–or whatever they called it. John Eldredge was there. He ruined my life.
I came to Christianity in my late twenties and all my early indoctrination had supported the notion of a very even-paced, even-tempered, even-keeled masculinity. I was working really hard at being really steady. Work was just something you did, family meant everything, and ‘calm’ and ‘quiet’ were considered the most flattering words with which you could be described. Mr. Eldredge changed all that. His call to arms, his call to the adventurer within, woke something up in me that was desperately trying to find justification. When I became a Christian, the romantic side of me had been tried and convicted as an accomplice to the sinful acts of the past, in the days when there was no guard on my behavior. It was a just verdict. Now, after so many years, Eldredge had requested its parole.
The grind of mindless, monotonous work was a cancer to my spirit. My life was draining out, like the battery in a radio left on in a room no one was in. There is something drastically wrong when your last thoughts walking out to work in the morning are “Help me endure, just one more day.” I could not tell you if any of the young adults we had taken to the conference had heard a word of the message, but I came back a changed man.
My wife had to listen to me talking about fulfilling my mission, whatever that was. What was worse, she had to experience the tumultuous insecurity of a man who seemed to be very selfishly taking not just himself, but his charge and his dear family through the financial disasters, confusion, and doubt common to such modern day adventurers. How could I justify changing my focus on my work from a grind to an adventure? It made my wife shudder to hear me say “I cannot live my life doing this kind of work.”
It had occurred to me that a day could be divided into three eight hour blocks. One is for sleep – hopefully (but who gets eight hours anymore?). One is for family or personal time. The third is for work. I realize that different cultures at different times have worked more or less, but I think it is very interesting that science has found that the basic general need for sleep is eight hours in every twenty-four, and that the social consensus on the length of a humane yet productive work day is also eight hours. Work takes up a major chunk of our lives. So what do we do with that chunk?
If the work personality is uninspiring, the home personality will suffer.
The best gifts generate a great deal of joy and interest. The best gifts command attention. The best movies have you at the edge of your seat. The best books have pages that are always too heavy to turn fast enough. The best days are filled with challenge and victory, of things unexpected, of stories that you can’t wait to tell. It seems to me that the best life must leave its benefactor amazed and exhausted. If life is a wonderful gift, and that life is reduced to the roughly sixteen conscious hours in every twenty-four, then it follows that the entire sixteen should be embraced in the same spirit of wonder and anticipation. How can one justify disregarding the time spent at work, which amounts to roughly half of our waking lives? To me that sounds like the guy who had received a gift to invest and grow, but instead buried it in the sand (Matthew 25). We know we are going to give an account of our lives (Romans 14:10-12). Does anyone want to answer “Well, for half of my conscious life I was on autopilot. I tried to be a good guy, and not steal or cheat or gossip, but as for really living my life, I just put it on hold.” You might just as well say, “I spent half my life gathering food.” I don’t think that is going to be an answer we want to stand behind on that day.
It seems to me that a main argument in favor of embracing work time vivaciously as well as family time comes down to maintaining a continuity of self. I cannot be a divided person, one person at work, foggy and docile, and another at home, full of passion and verve. If the work personality is uninspiring, the home personality will suffer. Passion cannot be conserved. Passion only survives when it sees the light all the time, when it is stimulated constantly, when it experiences frequent expression.
There is something drastically wrong when your last thoughts walking out to work in the morning are “Help me endure, just one more day.”
This is the attitude I brought back from San Diego so many years ago, and is, in many ways, the attitude I have today. I soon found, though, that whatever the big work adventure is that waits for we newborn romantics, it does not much look like an adventure in the classic sense of sword and dragon. It is difficult to turn a cubicle and a fourteen inch monitor into a set of armor and a stallion, or a kayak and a compass, or any other real adventurous thing. It is hard to scale the big mountains and discover the treasure from most office buildings.
Like a child, I attempted to do that. I was going to realize my true gifts, bring the most joy to myself and to my family (and everyone around me) by striking out on my own. I was sure that just the nature of my drive and talents would assure me great success. In the words of Nike, I was going to “Just do it.” But I didn’t do it.
I will always remember the day when I realized that my business was going to fail – and I mean crash and burn, with twisted metal and huge dark flames reaching up to the sky. I had prayed so fervently, with such passion and confidence. I had been sure that the business would break through, taking me and my relieved family with it. But instead, we would all see it fail.
As I prayed, I ventured to question God. “What happened? Why didn’t you come through?” This is the scariest time that I’ve ever heard God. It was firm and, frankly, terrifying. He said (paraphrased) “You cannot twist my arm.”
At that moment I was immediately struck with the fact that my prayers previously had been my attempt to bind God to what I wanted. I wanted to be successful. I was doing everything right. He needed to perform.
Since then I have come to realize that mine was a very poorly conceived business plan. It would have been a huge injustice to all smart entrepreneurs out there if I would have succeeded. I had been foolish.
So now what? Should I go back to the cubicle? Was Eldredge wrong? No.
We are made for adventure. All of us. I’m convinced of it. Passion, surprise, and courage are the very best things in life. But I learned two lessons. First, it was extremely naïve of me to think that I could find a great adventure in a place of my choosing. Who ever had an adventure on a familiar road? It is precisely the uncomfortable environment that is ripe with adventure. Sometimes you have to get out of the cubicle, but sometimes the adventure IS the cubicle. It even sounds like Hollywood’s next horror film: “Who will survive The Cubicle?!!”
The second lesson I learned is that God does not rescue us from consequences because they are gifts. From good and bad choices, mostly from bad ones as a matter of fact, comes the most valuable awareness of life. And for awareness to strike home, it has to matter, it has to have weight.
Here’s the thing: My adventure was a great adventure. But boy, I got my butt kicked big time! I lost that battle. The dragon ate me up and spit me out. Ouch! But it was a great adventure. And, by God’s grace–and the love and support of family–I’m on to another. This time I’m not so naïve. This time there is more promise, and it’s even a little bit like a cubicle sometimes. I’m a lot more thoughtful about my choices. I’m not trying to twist God’s arm. I’m playing to win in God’s eyes. If, by God’s grace, we are prosperous, I will have a greater testimony than I would have had otherwise. Life has been riskier, but richer. Who I am at work is who I am at home. I am one adventurer living an adventure with God, being a part of his kingdom, following his guidance–I know who I am.