And I don’t believe in secular things,
Just a world waiting to be redeemed.
All the earth is holy ground.
–Tenth Avenue North
Life after college raised a lot of questions for me.
Throughout school I had developed a lot of ideas about what kind of person I wanted to be, and what I felt life should look like. Then I faced the point where it was a lot harder to live it out than I thought it would be…and I realized why so many people settle for what I had considered mediocre lives.
It’s hard work getting up every day, and dedicating the best hours to a job you may not always love. It’s hard work getting up every day, and setting yourself aside to focus on the needs of others. It’s hard work denying yourself temporary pleasure to gain something that will one day be worth it, or investing in relationships with people that see life so differently than you.
In one way, nothing has changed–these challenges have always been present. Yet suddenly it felt like it was all up to me to get this right.
In the past year and a half, I have come to realize my strong tendency towards doing. It’s extremely difficult for me to feel as if I’m “wasting” my time, so I like to keep busy. But even more than that, I’ve come to realize how all of my beliefs about “secular” vs. “sacred” are much harder to live out than I may have thought.
I truly believe the condition of our hearts are much more important than the actions we do. At least, I believe this in my head. The trouble is, sometimes my heart overrides my head and starts to panic. This happened a lot when we were first married, and moved into a new community. It took a while for me to find a job, and even then I felt constantly guilty that I wasn’t involved in “ministry.” I felt that I would stand before God one day, and answer for all the time I was wasting. Yet at the same time, I would constantly remind my husband that his nine-to-five office job was just as important as any type of “ministry,” because what mattered more was how and why we worked. I truly believed this, but I was just beginning to realize how hard that can be to actually live out.
I don’t like this idea that pastors and non-profit workers are doing ministry, while the rest of us are not. A lot of people have been writing books and articles about this subject and have opened up a great discussion on this point. Yet I still couldn’t shake this pressure I had put on myself, this panicky need to “get involved.”
In the end, I did get involved in a wonderful organization that I am still volunteering with today. There are so many needs in the world, in our communities, and I do think it’s important that we are generous with our time in these ways. What I need to remember, however, is that I’m not doing these things to make God happy. He’s not looking down at our schedules with disappointment if we’re not committed to five different non-profit organizations. He cares so much more about the condition of our hearts.
When our hearts are right before God, we’re looking for ways to serve others. Maybe you don’t volunteer with any organization, but you’re getting to know your neighbors or coworkers. Are you looking for ways to do good, meet needs, and give yourself and your resources generously in order to bring glory to our generous God? Then you are doing ministry.
Maybe you have a “secular” hobby, such as running, baking, hiking, or watching sci-fi movies. These are opportunities to build relationships in a way that honors our relational God. Maybe you spend most of your spare time doing housework or yardwork. Ask God to help you do this work in such a way that it points clearly to his goodness and beauty.
The biggest secret I have found in seeing the world as holy ground is this: pay attention.
Notice the person who rings up your groceries, the man digging through the trash behind your office building, the small child waiting at the bus stop. Stop a moment in your busy life, and show them that they matter.
Notice the coworker who seems discouraged, the neighbor who could use some help weeding the lawn, the friend who might need a chance to speak and really be heard. See them. Engage them. Offer to meet that need.
This is doing justice: trying to do rightly by everyone we meet, and give generously the resources we have in turn been given. This is doing justice: to honestly admit our own failures and limitations, and trust in the power of a God who can take our small loaves and multiply them into thousands.
This is justice: to show genuine value and generosity to others, not because we feel guilty or are trying to make God happy, but because we desire to treat them as well as God has treated us.