The Common Good

Balancing Stillness and Action

Like many others who are currently unemployed or partially employed, this seminary graduate finds herself with unexpected time on her hands. I initially felt ambivalent about the endlessly unscheduled hours; while I'm grateful for the rest, the long stretches of silence can terrify me. I have been tempted to distract myself in fast-paced city living as quickly as possible. Yet a "voice" has invited me to contemplate the relationship of action and stillness in this season of quiet.

For those of us who seek God's reign and advocate for the least of these, our focus can often be on active living in the public sphere. We like Bible passages with clear instructions, like Matthew 25:35 ("For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink"); or Isaiah 1:17 ("Seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow"). Social justice-minded Christians especially enjoy heralding the cry of Micah 6:8, to "do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God."

But we often practice only the first two of Micah's exhortations. We have jumped at the opportunity to serve the Lord through action -- and for many Christians seeking social justice, we pursue jobs where we can do just that. Sadly, some of us have become obsessed with Kingdom work on our own terms. We never sleep, we're attached to our smart phones, and we schedule every moment of our days into our online calendars.

Eventually, we begin to see time as a commodity that is ours to optimize, and at some point in this whirlwind lifestyle, we often lose sight of the goals of the Kingdom. We begin to regard people as commodities as well. We say we want to seek the best possible society, but our own lives only demonstrate subjugation of self and other. In this life of constant movement, we have forgotten how to "stop and smell the roses." As we pursue the best possible stewardship of our resources, we begin to consider only the economic value of roses. In the rush to do justice and love kindness, we can become completely oblivious to the mystical life-giving quality of God's presence around us.

Let me make clear that I affirm the value and dignity of work, and I lament the continuing high unemployment numbers. We need to advocate for policies that will create jobs for those who desperately need them. Yet perhaps in this season where the distinction between action and stillness is acutely visible in our country, the church needs to discuss the role of work and its place in our lives. Too many people make idols of their jobs or their ministries. And those who are currently without employment may feel even more dejected because our society often gives job status more weight than it deserves. All of us need to remember how to walk humbly.

Walking humbly involves stopping to listen to God, being open to correction, and making space for worship. For those of us who thirst for God's Kingdom, choosing to walk humbly needs to be preached and practiced just as robustly as the other commands of Micah 6:8. Whether we are currently employed or not, we need to be reminded that our self worth does not come from our job title.

portrait-melanie-weldon-soisetMelanie Weldon-Soiset is a former policy and organizing associate at Sojourners, and currently works part-time at a church in Washington, D.C.

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