You should strive to be like the gods. Or maybe not. (Wait, what?)
In The Icarus Deception, Seth Godin writes about a Japanese term kamiwaza:
“Like most great words for which we have no equivalent, it is difficult to translate. The shortest version is “godlike.”
When we strip away self-doubt and artifice, when we embrace initiative and art, we are left with kamiwaza. The purity of doing it properly but without self-consciousness. The runner who competes with kamiwaza is running with purity, running properly, running as the gods would run.”
That statement is so close to correct, it’s almost painful. Isn’t it?
Kamiwaza isn’t something we should strive for… I mean, Adam and Eve wanted kamiwaza, to be like God, to be godlike, and it didn’t turn out so well.
So, no. Not kamiwaza. But Christian kamiwaza. (I’m not super original.)
Like most ideas rooted in scripture, it’s simple to understand but difficult to master. The shortest version might be “as created.”
When we strip away self-doubt, artifice, and doubts of our Creator, when we embrace what we were created for, we are left with Christian kamiwaza. The purity of doing it properly but without self-consciousness. The runner who competes with Christian kamiwaza is running with purity, running properly, running as God created him to run.
What would Christian kamiwaza look like in your work, art, home life, friendships? You would be fearless, decisive, adept, skillful. You would be intentional. You would be humble. You would be free from the unnecessary restrictions of others or self.
And [the prophets of Baal] cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them. – 1 Kings 18:28
They cut themselves. And not just a little.
You and I do the same thing.
Sin is a liar, and it’s always demanding more of you. And if you’re like me, you keep giving more and more of yourself to sin in pursuit of what it promises you. But here’s the crazy thing: sin never ever gives you what it promises to give.
The prophets of Baal in 1 Kings are a great example of this. For background, the prophet Elijah is going to settle the score on whose God is real, so he challenges the prophets of Baal to a sacrifice-off. Who can get their God to light a sacrifice on fire? The prophets of Baal go first and their efforts go like his:
Prepare the bull for sacrifice, call on Baal. Nothing happens.
Call on Baal a little louder. Nothing happens.
Limp around the altar while calling on Baal. Nothing happens.
Rage and scream, cut themselves in sacrifice. Nothing happens.
They started out preparing the bull for sacrifice. They wind up bleeding themselves. Gushing even.
At each stage sin offered them the promise that if they would give just a little more… then their false God would come and save them.
“Just a little more.” Sin whispers. “Just give me a little more, and I’ll give you what you want.”
But in the end, no one comes. Nothing happens. No one pays attention.
And that’s the hiss from the same sin we listen to everyday. It is making promises to you today that it will never keep. Can you hear them?
Forget your family, spend a few more hours at work. I promise that will make you successful.
Don’t be generous to your coworker, don’t share what you’re working on. I promise that’s the way you’ll do better than him.
Work hard when the boss is looking, but don’t worry about it otherwise. I promise it doesn’t matter anyways.
Skip time in the Word today, it’s been such a long demanding day. I promise you’ll be more rested if you don’t spend time with God.
People really hate math class. They love to say, “I’m 40 and I’ve never once used calculus.” But you never hear people say, “I’m 40 and I’ve never once used the knowledge that Genghis Khan died in 1227 AD.” Why is that? It’s weird. Especially since math is everywhere. Even in suffering and struggle.
My mom is a math teacher, and the other day she was commenting to me how she appreciates that algebra math students are now instructed to solve a function rather than just solve for a variable.
For her, f(x)=1+x^2 > y=1+x^2. (Don’t worry, all the math in this post is made up and unnecessary to understanding the main point. It is fun though, to find a Gospel application even for algebraic notation.)
At first, this made no sense to me. It’s all the same, right? It’s just a semantic difference. Swap y for f(x) for z for the word banana… it’s all just a representation of a variable right?
But no, she said. Functions are different than variables. Once you solve a function, you can apply it to any number set, or combine it with any other function. Functions become building blocks that can be combined, transformed, modified and shifted. They are much more than an individual variable, they are a single component in a broader tapestry of understanding the world around us. And it’s not just math. Functions are everywhere and can be applied to anything. Once you start thinking with functions, you can better understand almost any causal relationship.
CR Snyder (who I don’t know… obvi) didn’t know I had that conversation with my mom. He did, however, give us an interesting function to test our theory with.
So: If hope is a function of struggle, what are its properties? What are its components? How do we get from struggle to hope? How do we define the struggle function? (What does “function of” mean?)
Multiple choice tests taught me that it’s always easier to work backwards (and that’s the only thing), so let’s start with the product. What is hope a direct function of?
Hope is a function of character.
Brene Brown describes hope this way: “Hope is not an emotion, but a cognitive behavioral process that we learn when we experience adversity, when we have relationships that are trustworthy, when we have faith in our ability to get out of a jam.” That cognitive behavioral process could be described as your character. After all, who you are… what your character is… is just a combination of all the different behavioral processes you exhibit. (That’s as clinical as it gets… stick with me.)
Hope is not an emotion. Hope is a function of character.
hope = hope(character(x))
Or: more character leads to more hope.
Character is a function of endurance.
We have a useful start, but remember we can modify functions, we can combine them and transform them. So what is character a function of? Endurance.
Endurance is the ability to continue through discomfort. Research shows that the best distance runners in the world have a higher pain tolerance than the average person, but not a higher pain threshold. That means they feel pain at the same point but don’t succumb to it as quickly as you or I. They have trained themselves to be able to endure.
Which sounds a lot like this function which produces character right? Things in our lives will hurt, they will be uncomfortable, but in enduring (and in properly addressing and dealing with those issues) we build character. The ability to do it again tomorrow, but better. We’re distance runners building our endurance.
character = character(endurance(x))
Or: more endurance leads to more character.
Endurance is a function of struggle.
Maybe you saw this when we were talking about building endurance, but you can’t have endurance if there is nothing to endure. I mean, by definition, endurance implies pain or discomfort. The Google definition for endurance is, “the fact or power of enduring an unpleasant or difficult process or situation without giving way.” The without giving way part is interesting because it implies a control or effort being exerted. A resistance to the pain being presented.
There is no endurance without struggle.
endurance = endurance(struggle(x))
Or: more struggle leads to more endurance.
And with that, we have all we need to make our proof:
hope = hope(character(endurance(struggle(x)))
Or: more struggle leads to more endurance leads to more character leads to more hope.
CR Snyder’s logic was right, but it wasn’t complete. Hope is a function of struggle, but what is struggle a function of? What sets this whole chain reaction in motion?
Struggling is a function of suffering.
Endurance is “the fact or power of enduring an unpleasant or difficult process or situation without giving way.” It’s the ability to prolong your struggle, which can only be brought about by struggling. We can only struggle in the face of pain. In the face of suffering. I mean, try to struggle while comfortable on a beach with a tiki drink in your hand. Just as we cannot build endurance without first struggling. We cannot struggle without first suffering.
hope = hope(suffering(x))
Or: more suffering leads to more hope.
Solving the suffering function gives us hope.
And are we surprised?
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5 ESV)
All of this is to say that in a non-intuitive way, your suffering today is a gift. The losses and difficulties are building in you a hope for the one who will not disappoint you. Tomorrow might not be brighter than today, but there is coming a day that will be much much brighter.
Take a minute to think about a struggle you have had. What is something you struggle with at work? Can you feel traces of endurance building up? Can you see shadows of your character strengthening? Do you find even the smallest amount of hope where previously there was none?
Now, what’s a hard or painful thing you could do at work today? What is a pain or suffering to struggle against? Start struggling.
It sounds click-batey but it’s true. Here are three sentences that are absolutely revolutionizing my work. They’ll do the same for you. [Full disclosure – They were inspired by the book “Let Me Be a Woman” (I was reading it by the pool, but don’t worry, it has a very masculine cover.)]
Let me be… a worker?
These three sentences are meant to be personalized and then recited whenever you are feeling lazy, scared, apathetic, frustrated, disrespected, belittled, arrogant, short tempered, or a thousand other negative ways.
These three sentences work in every situation, good or bad, and have a special way of tuning your attitude rightly. Seriously, it’s like oxiclean for your attitude (Lame analogy… Even I am rolling my eyes.)
Three sentences. I’ll give them to you all up front, then we will go through them one by one.
“Today, I am called to be a ________. The fact that I am a ________ does not make me a different kind of Christian, but the fact that I am a Christian does make me a different kind of ________. For I have accepted God’s idea of me today, and my whole life is an offering back to Him of all that I am and all that he wants me to be.”
“Today, I am called to be a _______.”
Sometimes you just need to be reminded that the work ahead of you today, this hour, this minute is a calling from God. (Because it is a calling from God.)
When the Corinthians asked Paul how they should live and what they should do for work after being converted to Christianity, he answered them this way: “Let everyone lead the life which the Lord assigned to him, and in which God has called him.”
In other words, Paul said, “keep doing what you are doing. If you’re a blacksmith, that’s your assignment from the Lord and your calling from God. The same is true if you’re a butcher a baker, or a candlestick maker.” (Little known fact about Paul: biiiiiig fan of the nursery rhyme.)
So this first sentence, “Today, I am called to be a __________.” Is a reminder and affirmation that your work has significance to God himself. He’s asking you to do it (not just your boss).
For me, this sentence might read:
– Today, I am called to be an investment banker.
– In the next hour I am called to finish this memo.
– In the next 5 minutes I am called to answer these emails.
Simple truth. Easy reminder. It gets me out of my laziness pretty quickly. My motivation for doing the task ahead isn’t for anyone other than God himself, which is much more motivating to me than working for a boss I may not agree with or being prompt in my email responses “just because.” Maybe you’re the same way.
This reminder isn’t simply about the fact that we’re working for God though. It’s that he cares about the work we are doing. Afterall, why would he call you to a task that had no value to him? He wouldn’t. (1)
“The fact that I am a __________ does not make me a different kind of Christian, but the fact that I am a Christian does make me a different kind of __________.”
There is both humility and pride in this statement. Can you see the humility? Your specific calling doesn’t gain you any special standing (bummer if you have a cool job). But it also offers pride because your specific calling can’t demote you to a shameful position (that’s good for you to hear if you think your job is low and without purpose.)
Secretly, we like to think that people with cool or sexy jobs are somehow better Christians. But no matter your job, you’re not a different type of Christian. God shows no partiality to your title, he’s after your heart.
(As a side note, and maybe it points out the absurdity that we think certain jobs earn us a better standing with God – for some people, being a pastor or missionary qualifies as a sexy job… others scoff at this position and think that the title of trial attorney or tech-startup founder qualifies as a cool job worthy of God’s approval… both of these groups disagree whole heartedly… neither are correct. But we digress.)
By reminding ourselves that we’re not a different type of Christian, we’re attacking all of the weird identity issues that come along with our work. We’re attacking both the pride and the shame of our work, the self-righteousness and self-loathing.
Read it simply: The fact that I am a ______ doesn’t make me a different kind of Christian.
I hope this helps you remember that you aren’t your work. I hope this helps you see that the work ahead of you doesn’t define you – your faith does.
Now the second half of our statement attacks an entirely different issue in our hearts. “…but the fact that I am a Christian does make me a different kind of _________.”
While the fact that you are a banker or construction worker or speech pathologist doesn’t change God’s view of you or your ability to interact with him, your identity as a child of God changes everything about the way you approach being those things.
As a Christian, you will be upright, steadfast, honest, diligent, fearless, faithful, compassionate, encouraging, patient, forgiving, shrewd, generous, and on and on… (1)
For me, when I remind myself that I will work differently, it usually encourages me to work harder. For you though, it may encourage you to be less stressed about deadlines. Or maybe you take a bigger creative risk. Or maybe you pay a little more attention to the details. Or maybe you’re a little more generous with your time and attitude.
“For I have accepted God’s idea of me today, and my whole life is an offering back to Him of all that I am and all that he wants me to be.”
The last of the three sentences falls into the category of “simple, but not easy.” (It may be the hardest.)
To accept God’s idea of you today means to accept every part of you. That includes all of your strengths, but also the parts about you that you currently view as weaknesses. Your lack of intellect, charisma, physical strength. The mole above your left eye, the way you sometimes say “you too” to a waiter who says “enjoy your meal”, the funny way you sign off on emails.
When you accept God’s idea of you, you accept that God created you a certain way, unique. And in that uniqueness he’s given you both strengths and weaknesses that he hasn’t given others.
You accept that God is the only perfect being and that you are not perfect.
Once you accept that, it is easier to affirm that today is an offering of praise to him. Your “whole life is an offering back to him of all there you are and all that he wants you to be.” All of your being. All of your life. Not part of it. All of it.
That means your weaknesses are used as an offering of praise, right alongside your strengths. This isn’t to say that we throw our hands up and give up on improving. But it does mean we don’t worry so much about comparing our weaknesses against other’s strengths (there’s so much freedom there anyways). We’re grateful for who God has made us to be and we respond accordingly.
“Today, I am called to be a _______. The fact that I am a __________ does not make me a different kind of Christian, but the fact that I am a Christian does make me a different kind of __________. For I have accepted God’s idea of me today, and my whole life is an offering back to Him of all that I am and all that he wants me to be.”
I don’t have a clever way to end this. No gimmick. Just a simple request: take a minute, type out (or write down) your affirmation of work, then print it out and put it somewhere you can see it. If you get off track while working, look at the note you wrote yourself. Remind yourself as frequently as you need to. (sometimes I read it three times before I get it.) I guarantee (2) it will make a difference.
(1) Hey! Footnotes, huh? If you’re interested in the theology that supports these claims (and they are beautiful theological truths!) you should sign up to get posts sent straight to your inbox. I include supporting scripture and theology there. You can sign up by enterinng your email below:
(2) Here’s the guarantee: If these three sentences don’t change the way you work, feel free to crumple them into a ball and throw them at me the next time we see each other. (I won’t even be mad.)
Some people, maybe most people, won’t understand what it is you’re up to.
Are you really trying to tell me that your work is worship?
Are you really trying to tell me that going out drinking with those people is obedient?
Are you really trying to tell me that working 80 hours a week is faithful?
Are you really trying to tell me that eating that is alright?
Are you really trying to tell me that going there is ok?
Faithfulness isn’t about them. Their perceptions, reactions and comments are immaterial. You have to impress just one person (and that guy, as it turns out, is already impressed with you.)