I’m sitting at this coffee shop in the most ethnically diverse part of the most ethnically diverse city in the nation. There are mothers leading small children along the sidewalk. An elderly couple trudges past me for their afternoon drink. I see businessmen—the ever-increasing work-from-home type—crunching numbers and making phone calls.
I notice my own reflection in the dim and slightly cracked screen of my 2009 MacBook Pro, a gift from my grandmother nearly eight years ago. Of the myriad of differences that help passersby differentiate between us all, still the things we share as human beings shine brighter than those that separate.
For example, we are all enjoying a brisk, sunny day—which, let’s be honest—is so rare in Houston. (I’m smirking to myself as I write this, because Reliant K’s “Sunny With A High Of 75” just happens to be playing in my ears.) And we’re all getting our various preferred caffeine fix. We all have a place to call home, some work to do, a burden on our hearts and minds, and people that we care about. Despite it all, the commonality that I can’t seem to get out of my head is this lie that has a hold of each of us. Yes, even you.
I was raised to appreciate and respect hard work, and to work hard myself. I imagine most of us were taught the classic “American” (and by American I mean North American, and by North American I mean United States, and by United States I mean those of America, not Los Estados Unidos Mexicanos—so I’ll stick with “American”) pillars of hard work and respect.
My family history is filled with true examples of that recipe leading to success. Many members of my father’s family live and work in the coal mining country of West Virginia. With every summer trip, I’d hear tales of my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather coming to this country, purchasing some land, building a home for his family, and raising a family. His descendants worked in a coal mine, situated directly underneath our family farm.
My dad remembers as a kid waiting at the bottom of the hill to receive his soot-covered grandfather. He’d walk with him back up to dinner. As a child, I heard the story of how my dad left home at 17, paid his way through college and then, landed a well-paying job that provided me every privilege I’ve ever known. There is no one I respect more than my father. I am endlessly grateful for all he provided—life lessons included. I hope to one day teach my own child to work hard, to respect others and I can only hope I am able to provide such a privileged station in life to my offspring, because who doesn’t want that for their own kids?
I am sure that you have family stories much like my own. I’m positive you have a great deal of respect for your parents and you’re grateful for the life they provided you. But still, somehow we are all so often caught in this subtle (but very dangerous lie) that I can see in each latté-consumer sitting in this coffee shop. It’s not that we mean to believe this lie. It just happens. We’re complex creatures and somehow, we can synonymously give thanks for all we’ve been given AND believe that we are self-made. Somewhere during our lesson in virtue, we come to believe that we did it on our own. Maybe we never knew that being taught those virtues was a gift in itself? Maybe because we DO in fact work extremely hard for what we have we start to believe that others who have less don’t work hard? Maybe believing this lie of being “self- made” somehow subconsciously makes us feel better about ourselves and we are scared to kick the high?
It’s hard to figure out, and even harder to face.
I work hard. I respect others who work hard. But lately, I’ve had to continually remind myself that I was given EVERYTHING and others—for whatever reason—were given nothing. That doesn’t mean that I am somehow better than them. And maybe you’re thinking, “cute story bro, but what does this have to do with the Gospel?”
Here’s a good reason: The Gospel Of Jesus Christ solidifies the fact that we’re all sinners, deserving of eternal separation from relationship with God—but we were given a bridge back to relationship through his propitiation! It’s the great equalizer and unifying force in this world. We ALL, whether we know it or not, are given the chance to have our great debt cleared without any act of our own. And if you are white, black, Christian, Muslim, straight, gay, male or female there is a way for you. Our God is bigger than the labels that we wear.
Now, this isn’t a political thing. I’m not trying to tell you how to vote. I’m not trying to get you to call your senator. I’m not even trying to get you to help refugees in your community. I’m just asking that we try these few things:
- Stop believing the lie that you are self-made, but give thanks for those who helped you, and offer “a hand up” to someone else even when it costs you.
- Stop assuming that the sin you see, or hear about, or notice in your neighbor is their biggest struggle, and stop hiding behind your label. I think often the labels we wear can act as bulletproof vest protecting our real problems.
- Know that you can’t serve two Gods. There is only one true God and he requires all of you.
- Remember that we were all without, and were given everything. Somebody helped you along the way, and there has been, still is, and will always be a God who is offering to give you even more.
- Try kindness. As Andrew Osenga says: “The fight had raged so long, and no one remembered the way it had begun, and all those Decembered sad years ache for the words that would let the war be done…then..there appeared brave men and women who dared to break the silence with kindness, words of kindness, real true kindness with its healing touch, risking forgiveness and trust.” (The House Where No One Spoke/Heart EP)
* this is not meant to be an exhaustive theology or representation of Christian life, just some ideas from a white, reaching for middle class, guy.