Friday, August 04, 2017

Responsibility and loyalty (or how does god provide?)

I know there are some people who believe I am being irresponsible for quitting my job. I admit I have some sneaking suspicions myself from time to time. The specific issues in this case notwithstanding, I have been doing a little mental inventory of my work history this morning, as well as some theological reflection.

I have worked for as long as I can remember. I started mowing lawns and shoveling people's sidewalks in grade school. Growing up in a farming community I also did my share of baling hay, walking beans, and other odd jobs. On school breaks my dad always seemed to find something I needed to help the janitors with around the school. Even just doing the "chores" at home from an early age - feeding and looking after the horses and hunting dogs - I was never a stranger to work and the idea of responsibility.

When I turned 16 and got a drivers license I took my first "real" job. It was at a gas station and I ended up working there for 10 years - becoming a full-time job in summers and when school was over. I did not make much money at the gas station, but one of my stronger character traits is loyalty. Unfortunately I can sometimes be loyal to a fault even.

As our family developed I finally took the responsible route and got a factory job. It paid better and offered benefits I didn't have when our children were born. It was a decent job for our little town, and I enjoyed my time there, but I can't say that I was really suited for it. A lot of factories are not much different than middle schools and the idea of 'responsibility' became rife with contradiction for me. Was making "x" amount of money really the responsible thing to do in light of the kind of person I was becoming?

After 6 years of factory work, and much prayer and soul searching, we decided I would quit my job and go to seminary full-time in another state. I was the sole bread-winner at the time, but I quit my job, we sold our house and most of our possessions, and our family of 4 moved into an apartment. I went to school - working odd jobs from time to time - and Jane cleaned people's houses. We lived off the money we made from our house as well as the generosity of our parents. Many people saw that as being TOTALLY irresponsible, but those were actually some of the best years of our lives as I/we felt a clear calling from God.

When schooling was done I then took a job as pastor of a little country church. I hadn't even asked how much it paid, but it seemed the right thing to do. I think I started out making $13,000 a year (or maybe $15,000). Was this the responsible thing, or was it being loyal to my calling? As the church grew I made more money, and for many years it seemed the best of both worlds. But then came the burnout. After 14 years of 'loyalty' to this small church, it didn't end well. I was given a nice severance package and took several months off work trying to sort things out.

That's when I took my present job. It wasn't anything I had experience in, but it seemed a good fit at the beginning. I soon started making okay money again, and it appeared I was on the responsible road toward retirement age. This is where the responsibility/loyalty conundrum kicked in again though. Was it more irresponsible for me to stay after I had become miserable, or leave without having something else lined up? Was I being loyal to others at the expense of loyalty to where God was leading my heart? These are thoughts I've been wrestling with for some time now.

When I was at the church, my wife and I both felt God leading us elsewhere long before we were forced out, but we stayed because we never sensed where we were being led to. Did I want to make that mistake again? No. 

Responsibility/irresponsibility can be perceived by different people in different ways, and even by the same person depending on a slew of variables. For some people it is fairly cut and dry that the responsible thing is always to provide for your family financially. For others, responsibility has little to do with money and more to do with God's will. It's the same with loyalty. Which is more important, loyalty to a certain lifestyle, or loyalty to the Spirit working inside of you?

One of the major (MAJOR) themes of the Christian bible is the idea of trusting that God will provide. It starts with Adam and Eve in the garden - taking things into their own hands instead of listening to God - and is soon followed up with Abram/Abraham. The rest of Scripture then follows this route - were people more loyal to God than to their own ways and ideas?

A popular notion in America anyway is that "Jesus gives to those who give themselves." The idea that God does provide, but it's often through us - the work of our hands and minds - and that's how his will is accomplished. This is a popular idea now among the "missional" crowd. As Ephesians 8:10 says, "For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." I can't argue with this, but is that the ONLY way God provides?

I have always been fascinated with Abraham's story. He is called to "go"... but not told where. Then there is the sacrificial offering ordeal with his son Isaac. Abraham trusted that God would provide. All he did was follow.

I can't say there is no shadow of doubt in my mind, but I believe I've always operated (or at least tried to) out of my loyalty to God and what I believe he is leading me to do. I've also never considered myself "at home" in the systems of this world. Faith is defined in the bible as "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." The path I am taking, and that Jane and I have taken at other points in life, doesn't LOOK like the responsible thing to do. But looks can be deceiving.

So, I say all that to take a more concrete look back through my work history. Journaling is how I wrestle the best... with thoughts and ideas and values and such. This is where I'm at. I value responsibility and loyalty very much. That's how I'm wired. I suppose it can look quite the opposite to some people. Ultimately I believe God will and does provide though. Sometimes it is through us, and sometimes in spite of us. He can be funny like that. Hmm... such is life.