Near my desk at work is a TV hanging from the ceiling, playing the news. The voices of our candidates, our news reporters, our First Lady, blare all day long. Today, during a commercial break, I heard “Learn languages online! Learn with Babbel.” My ears perked up, because this Genesis 11 passage had been on my mind. We learn languages to cross cultural lines, to feel more attuned to the world, or maybe to simply avoid dirty looks from Parisians when you try to ask for directions to “le metro” in English. At the root of it, our desire goes way beyond learning and culture. Do we not simply long to be united? To go back to the way we were before we were scattered? Despite our sinful self-centeredness, our desire to “make a name for ourselves,” I believe that deep down, we do yearn for what we were made for: unity with God and with each other.
But we get in our own way; we eat the apple; we build the towers. I indulge myself in self-pity; I hold my pride too high to follow God’s call. I trust in myself and lean on my own understanding, and I keep building my towers higher. So much of our work, at home, in life, in relationships, is tower-building. Our problem, as C.S. Lewis puts it, is our “excessive selfness.” This is the chasm that separates Genesis 3 from Genesis 1; from our excessive selfness, we’ve brought upon ourselves toil in work, loneliness, and futility, even though we were made for fruitfulness, community, and efficacy. Like the Tower of Babel story, we bring upon ourselves exactly that which we were seeking to avoid – because we do not trust the promise of God.
“For dust you are, and to dust you will return…”
Last weekend I attended a conference by Dr. Dan Allender during which he spoke on the Curse. He articulated well that man is cursed to futility. This “dust-to-dust” concept holds in it a certain sense of pointlessness. Why sow here, why put in effort, when it’s all going to go to waste anyway? I have battled that feeling of meaninglessness, in a sense, in my work. My feeling hasn’t been, “it’s all going to waste anyway,” but rather, “if I don’t do it, someone else would. There’s probably nothing I can uniquely offer to this company [insert: project, account, team, city, etc.]”
As I think more, I find that this is my response to work: industry is so big that there will never be a lack of people to do the job; there are plenty of talented people in the world; I’m not that important. When it comes to smaller things that interest me, though, maybe ministry related things, leadership roles, I take the opposite stance: I should rightfully have this position; I am the best fit for this role; look what I can do with this; I hope people are very impressed with my work. Now, I cannot say that every motive in this latter category is selfishly insincere; by the grace of God I believe I do have many genuine and loving motives. But to ignore the threads of great pride in my life, would be to ignore the towers I build. (How can I ignore them when they are so tall?). Suddenly, I’m in Babel.
My heart needs continual healing in the second area, and it certainly needs healing in the first. While the two responses might look different, is not pride what is common to each – a focus on self? Pride is easier to spot in the second area, (“I should have this position”, “I am great at this.”), but it is present in the first, just hidden. I am prideful in choosing where I invest myself, instead of “whatever you do, do it heartily, as for the Lord…” (Col. 3:23-24). Is it possible that while I consider myself useless for a job, I am also deeming it useless to myself? Shouldn’t my true focus be, “yes, others may do a splendid job, and there are many people in the world that have the ability to do it, and it may not be my most favorite, glamorous thing to do, but this is the work to which I have been called at the present time, and I must do well what I have been given to do.”
The greater focus here is to “work heartily, as for the Lord”. I am preaching this to myself, for it is easier said than done, but applying this kind of mindset to each task at work could prove revolutionary; it takes the focus off of me as a contributor, and raises God to the proper place of sovereign provider. Because, if I really consider it, I am no valuable contributor by myself; I am a mere dust-creature. Apart from Christ, “I can do nothing.” When Babel builds its tower, God “comes down” to see it. We do not come up to meet God, he stoops all the way from the splendor of heaven to the dust of the earth to knock at our door.
Annie Monson works in Public Relations and is a member of the 2016-2017 Capital Fellows Program.