Last week, Bryan Stoudt shared about the tension many grad students feel between work and family, and the temptation to make good work God has called us to do into an idol. This week, he explores the underlying reasons for this tendency. See Part 1 here.
Part 2: But Why Do We Worship Our Work?
So our obsession with school can stop us from loving and serving our spouses, kids and others around us.
But all this begs the question: why would we put our thesis or research in God’s place anyway? If we’re going to make real, lasting changes, we need some insight into what’s going on.
It can be complicated and vary for each of us, but here are some things I hear (and see in myself) again and again:
- fear of man—this is the biblical, more accurate term for what we commonly call “people pleasing.” We worry about what our professors—and fellow students—think about us because we (perhaps unwittingly) feel their words can give us life or death. Everyone else seems like they’ve got it together. Smarter than us. So, we figure we’ve got to work harder than they do if we want to be successful and earn their praise. Warning Sign: you feel great when your work is praised and awful when you’re criticized (or when others are praised and you aren’t).
- it’s all about the end game—we do well in college so we can get into a good graduate program so we can get a great job so… Academic and professional environments are incredibly competitive. If we don’t get it done, someone else will. So, we reason that we’ve got to do whatever it takes to get ahead, or, our options will be limited. And we’ll be outed as failures. Warning Sign: you’re always worrying about the future impact of what you’re doing (or not) instead of being faithful to the small, next steps God has put before you. Also, fixating on what others are doing in comparison to you.
- our relationship with God isn’t all that strong—there are a million pressures screaming at us to find our identity and value in our work. And very little encouraging us to find our center in God. At the end of the day, though, many of us haven’t come to practically know that ‘there is no one like you, O Lord’ (Jeremiah 10:6; Isaiah 45:5; 1 Chronicles 17:20). Warning Sign: We “know” the right answer—that God is supposed to come first—but practically feel pretty indifferent toward him, especially when we are faced with a choice between him and the academic responsibilities in front of us.
Next time, I’ll talk about how a foundation of help from God frees us to love others, and I’ll start sharing a list of practical ways to care for those around us.
Which of the above warning signs do you see most clearly in your life? (Try to be specific!)
Take a moment to confess the specific ways you’ve allowed school to eclipse your relationship with Christ, then consider using this prayer:
Father, I know that ‘there is no one like you’, able to save me and fill my life and calling to academics with purpose and joy. Please forgive me for not living like I truly believe this, and give me renewed strength to put you at the center of every moment. In Christ’s Name, Amen.
Bryan Stoudt is a graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary and pastors healthcare students in Philadelphia, where he serves as the Christian Medical & Dental Association’s Area Director. He and his wife Sharon have four wonderful children. Bryan blogs about ‘following Jesus in a noisy, broken world’ at www.bryanstoudt.com.