There are a lot of notions out there in the world on how long a thing should take to be accomplished and what sort of milestones we should reach at certain points in time. We see it all the time in adulthood in the questions that get asked or the plans that we make. For the most part, many of those timelines overlap, which leads to the thinking that hitting those milestones is a measure of how successful we are at life. Nothing could be further from the truth. Add to that navigating this world as a Christian and quite often you find yourself with supposed milestones sailing past until you feel you are doing life all wrong and wonder how come you’re the only person who can’t seem to get anywhere.
When my mom was a little girl, one year her teacher decided to hold a reading challenge. She had paper squares to make a bookworm and each kid had their own. The idea was that for every twenty-five or so pages you read independently, you got to add another circle to your bookworm. Each kid started with one circle pasted on the wall and they would watch as the bookworms grew around the classroom. Most of the kids were reading small books that were no longer than twenty-five pages total and the bookworms soon started to inch along the wall.
As these things so often do, it quickly devolved into a contest between the kids. They’d brag about how long their bookworm was and tease their friends who were behind. So it didn’t escape their notice for a second that as time went on my mom’s bookworm didn’t move an inch. They wasted no time in teasing and mocking her. My mom stayed quiet though, never responding to the comments, never rising to the teasing, just doing her own thing. The other bookworms continued to grow and my mom’s stayed at a single circle. For all the world, it looked like she just wasn’t even trying.
Then one day, my mom walked into class and turned in her first book for the project: The Fellowship of the Ring. It’s no secret that I’m not a genius at math, but that book has a lot more pages than just twenty-five. Suddenly her bookworm shot around the classroom and outpaced everyone else’s. Not finished, my mom later turned in more of Tolkien’s work. She earned so many circles for her bookworm it wrapped around the classroom and the teacher had to overlap the circles just to make them fit. No one was questioning or teasing my mom anymore.
Christian life in this world is surprisingly similar to my mom’s reading challenge, largely because Christianity calls us to very different long-term goals than what the world might deem important. The world defines success by all manner of checkboxes and questions. Do you have that job yet? That car? That house? That promotion? That respect? That relationship? We get so obsessive with these milestones that we place them on carefully curated timelines and drive ourselves absolutely mad if we miss a single one.
And then there’s God’s plan.
God’s plan violently collides with our worldly expectations of accomplishment and timeline. All too often we bring him our checklist of must-dos and find that he doesn’t care a fig about whether or not you got that promotion faster than anyone in the company ever has before or how many bedrooms your new house has. He’s not interested in us achieving what the world deems important. After all, he’s not transforming us into the world’s most accomplished human being. He’s transforming us into something much more like himself.
If you’re doing something worthwhile that’s countercultural, it absolutely makes sense that culture is going to tell you you’re doing it wrong. Our world likes consistency and uniformity, and anything that goes against that it seeks to put down. To reject the idea of checklist accomplishments and milestones in favor of seeking after God’s will and what he might have planned for you will absolutely have the world screaming that something is amiss.
So the world will start whispering that you’re doing it wrong, you’re falling behind, you’re not making par, you’re not working hard enough, you’re lazy, you’re not paying attention to what’s important, you’ve got no ambition, you’re trying too hard to make a dumb idea work, you’re not letting go and going with the flow of life, you’re being a stick in the mud, you’re not taking life seriously.
Like my mother’s classmates, all these voices start hounding us, insisting that our timing is off and we’re drastically behind. But God is not concerned with the fate of twenty-five pages of reading. He has his sights on much bigger targets.
The most worthy things in life often take the longest to accomplish.
Something taking a long time to accomplish is not an indication that it’s wrong or not worth it. It might just simply mean that it’s hard work. But when you do accomplish something after putting in the long, hard work? Oh heavens, how you begin to outpace the world itself. To do something the long way through hard work is to invest in the quality of your very soul. Our hearts and souls are not the places to slap things together with shoddy workmanship. We will be better served by the long dedicated work to build up the things that actually matter in the grand scheme of things than by rapid attention to a hurried, worldly checklist.
Now a hard truth. There is a chance that you might not see some of those dreams and desires realized this side of life. There are going to be parts of life here on earth that we only see the reward or accomplishment for in heaven. That has to be ok. There is a host of saints to testify to that reality. So many people have dedicated their whole lives to work they never see the result or accomplishment of. If you live your life with the hope and expectation of earthly accolades you will get lost in the quagmire of your own disappointment.
You have to make your peace with the idea that the world might not ever understand your focus and that you might not see the results of that dedication in this world. After all, accolades aren’t the point anyway. As Christians, we are working for something much better than worldly accomplishment so why should the world’s opinion on our success matter anyway?
As Colossians 3:2 so simply puts it: “Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.”
Let’s find some joy,