to be with God

Heather has been struggling for a couple months now with tendinosis in both elbows, which severely limits her ability to work. It been very difficult for her. And one of the most difficult issues has been something I've also been struggling with, which is how much our value depends on the work we do.

It's really a widely accepted thing. People who do more valuable work get paid more, honored more, their needs are met first, they are more protected. Those who don't produce much of value are treated as less valuable people. "Value," of course, being determined by the group, the society. And the fear of being considered "less valuable" is deeply ingrained in us. Because, if we are to survive, we need the help and support of the people around us. If they start to consider us less valuable, even expendable, we instinctively feel threatened. If the group doesn't need us, can we count on them to take care of us? And that's not an irrational fear. The less valued are elbowed to the fringes of society all the time, and we all see the suffering that results.

It's easy to think the same way when "the group" is the church, too. There are "callings" that are considered more valuable, and honored more. Our perceived "vocation," perhaps even more so than our career, often contributes significantly to our sense of personal value. And with the church, there's even more tendency to think that the value the group assigns us is our actual value.

But Jesus didn't teach us to think like this. He taught that God values us like parents value their children, not according to how much we produce, but from the depth of his love for each of us. Our value doesn't increase as we can serve God more, or do more for God's kingdom. And it doesn't decrease as we get older and can no longer work. God doesn't provide for our needs and protect us because we are valuable members of his work force, but because he loves us and wants to take care of his children. We need not fear becoming expendable to God.

Sometimes, though, the emphasis on Christian "mission," or on "working to build the kingdom of God," gives the impression that Jesus' message to us is that we are invited to work for God. But is that really the "good news"? That we're hired?

No, God doesn't want us for our work. We are not called for our labor value. God wants us for us. To be with him.

This is the good news that Jesus announced, that we can be reunited with God, our father. I like how the parable of the prodigal son illustrates this. It is not because the younger son is a valuable worker that the father welcomes him back. The father runs and embraces him on the road because he is his son, his beloved son. The father's joy is that his son is back, with him again. And the older brother's fault, though he is a faithful and valuable worker, is that he keeps himself apart and will not go in. The father's desire is just for him to be with them also.

There's a deeply ingrained drive to try to increase our value in the eyes of others, through hard and successful work. But this should not be driving us as followers of Jesus, and children of God. Jesus offers us the freedom to help others as God's love inspires us, without fear that our value depends on the intensity or success of our work. And Jesus offers us the truth that God just wants us to be with him, whether we're working or not.

Jesus didn't tell Mary to work hard like Martha. He said that Mary had chosen the better part—chosen to be with him.