Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Law of the Sacrifice

“You can’t have everything. Where would you put it?”
Steven Wright

This relatively innocuous Venn diagram intended as a career counseling tool was presented as an exhibit of everything wrong with our modern consumer based economy during the initiation of a thoughtful Facebook discussion of the Christian and the purpose of life. While I have plenty of issues with our modern debt based consumer economy, I find this diagram nothing more than a useful but inadequate method of visualizing our legitimate search for self actualization. No two dimensional diagram can fully capture the complexity of the choices made by a man or a woman over the entirety of their allotted three score and ten.

While it does a pretty good job as a conversation starter for exploring our gifts, aspirations, and the practical realities of life in this material world, it fails to address our relationship with God. It also fails to consider the consequences of our choices over time and how those choices might echo in eternity.

Once we become adults, it is necessary that we work in order to support and care for our family. There is a problem here. Work is part of the curse. If someone is willing to pay you to do something, there is something wrong somewhere. If it was all that wonderful you would be paying him to get to do it. So then, how do we go about living our life as close to our personal understanding of whatsoever is true, noble, right, pure, and admirable as possible in a fallen world? The Bible has a great deal to say about hard work, honesty, and high levels of personal integrity in business dealings of all sorts. We are reminded that we do not work for man, that in fact we are working for God. I believe that is true whether we know it or not since someday each of us will have to answer for what we have done while living in this body.

The Bible tells us how we should work, but it doesn’t tell us what career path we should follow. We are given free will to make those kinds of decisions. In this country we have been given more possible options, more freedom and opportunity than has been typical down through most of human history. However, exploiting our opportunities will require the sacrifice of something good to obtain that which is better.

There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.

A farmer holds a handful of seeds. He could sell them today and buy a couple of beers down at the corner store or he could grind them into flour and bake a loaf of bread. Or he could take a gamble based on faith, hard work, and trust in our Lord that the rain and sun will, in due season; turn his handful of corn into a hundredfold harvest.

I left the workforce for three years in order to obtain a degree in mechanical engineering. I lost the monetary cost of that education. I lost three years of opportunity cost that would have been worth something on the order of $60,000 in gross income. I have never worked that hard before or since, but in return I was able to leave the factory floor for a better life in a research and development laboratory. I was also more than able to recover a great deal more than the $60,000 I lost over the course of a 27 year career.

Choosing a career is a very difficult decision. Most of us make that initial choice during a time in life when we are the least suited to make a decision of that magnitude. At eighteen, the age of maturity in our culture, most of us have no idea how good we really are at anything, we have little understanding of what the world needs or how the world works, and we certainly don’t understand the basics of economic reality in 21st century America. Yet, we make decisions that are sometimes irrevocably destructive. Some of us are more fortunate. It only cost me three years to recover from a mistake in choosing a college major that I loved, in an area of strength, that unfortunately had nothing to do with what the world needed or anything to do with the economic realities of the 1970s.

Even if we have managed to grasp that little blue star in the middle of the Venn diagram, our responsibilities do not end with our occupation. We have continued duties beyond the workplace. In many instances, our ability to fulfill these obligations rests on not only our career choice, but on how we choose to use the fruits of our labor. If we consciously choose to live on less than we earn rather than using debt as a tool to fulfill our desires, it is likely that we will have a surplus that can be invested in the future; our own retirement, our children and grandchildren, our community, our faith. All these very desirable goals require time, money, patience, and a willingness to sacrifice what would be good to enjoy today for what would be even better tomorrow.

We are only given one life to live. How we live that life is important. However you choose to define it, try to your life as close to that little blue star as possible, never forgetting your God or a future you may never live to see.

You can still be a blessing long after you shuffle off this mortal coil.

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