What does it mean to live out one’s calling as a Christian? This is the question I’ve struggled with for most of my adult life. And this is the question that Rosemary brought into focus for me in last week’s Parental Failings.
Rosemary describes her failure – at least in the eyes of her friend – to equip her daughter to be financial independent, or to put aside enough money to be financially independent herself. Of course, we Christians know that “financial independence” is not one of the chief virtues. Charity, on the other hand, is. So is generosity, kindness, liberality, and hospitality. As Rosemary notes, the entire gospel is the story of Jesus’ “giving beyond reason.”
I say, “of course, we Christians know,” but actually, I almost never know. For me, parenthood was the test where I discovered the wide gap between my professed values and the ones I actually held.
Cleanliness or Godliness?
If you had asked me, “what are the values you would like to pass on to your children?,” I could have rattled off the list: love, joy, peace, patience, mercy, and so on. But if you had looked at my behavior every school-day morning, you would conclude the chief virtues were punctuality, cleanliness, and completed homework. And throughout their teen years, my chief hopes for them were healthy habits, personal safety, good friends, academic success and job readiness.
I don’t think any of these are bad things. They are the qualities that will allow them to make their way in this world. They just aren’t the important things. Yet I know that they are the standard by which I, as a parent, judge myself and will be judged by others. And I never found a way to be a parent any other way.
Empowerment or sacrifice?
Which brings me to a fascinating conversation I had with some friends about community engagement. I have always taken for granted that my professional values align closely with my Christian values. But now I’m not so sure.
The values statements of many of the organizations I work for would include words such as independence, self-determination, dignity, pride, rights, and that over-used word “empowerment.”
But, as my friend John pointed out, are these really Christian ideals? In the gospels, we’re called to dependence on God and each other. We’re told to be humble, not proud. We’re described as sheep, followers, disciples and servants. It is the undignified – the ones who cry out, who fall on their face, who wash Jesus’ feet with their hair – who are honoured. And Jesus does not stand on his rights. Instead, he is called to live sacrificially, and calls us to the same.
What does all this mean for my work? Or to the values I aim to promote?
Friends, I haven’t a clue. If you have, clue me in!