“If I could become the servant of all, no lower place to fall…” –mewithoutYou, January 1979
If you’ve read my blog very often, you know that I tend to get frustrated at the lack of significance in the way many people spend their time, and especially at the silly ways I myself spend my time. I get stuck on the idea that the things we spend our lives working after, the goals and dreams that keep each of us striving for something better, all seem so small and pointless.
Goals and dreams become so ordinary, and deeds done are rarely great. They are no different than those of the next guy, who works for a nicer car and a better position than the ones he started with when he left college, or a larger church that proves he is a successful pastor. Everyone strives for small honors and large paychecks, and we come home and watch TV and exchange our gossip. At least that sums up pretty well what my life is most days, and honestly a life of chasing paychecks and watching cable television is becoming tired and unsatisfying.
In his book Franny and Zooey, J.D. Salinger writes about this constant stampede of humanity towards a goal that everyone is convinced they need, yet no one really wants. It is spoken by Franny, a girl who is aghast at the realization that everyone who wants to be anyone travels to the same places and works the same summer jobs and schmoozes the same businessmen. She says,
“It’s everybody, I mean. Everything everybody does is so—I don’t know—not wrong, or even mean, or even stupid necessarily. But just so tiny and meaningless and sad-making. And the worst part is, if you go Bohemian or something crazy like that, you’re conforming just as much as everybody else, only in a different way.”
Salinger wrote that in 1955, and now here we are, almost 60 years later, and we all still want the same vacations and same jobs that add up to the American dream, only now the Bohemians have been replaced by Hipsters. And whether you are reading Ecclesiastes or Franny and Zooey, the verdict is the same—all this striving and conforming to the goals society sets before us is meaningless. Even becoming one of the irony-loving hipsters is ironically conforming, so that being a hipster then, too, is meaningless.
Like Franny said, none of this stuff is wrong or mean or stupid. It’s just that so much of the American dream is ultimately materialistic. Some might argue that the American dream intends to provide a better life for your kids. However, if the whole sum of your goal is to raise another generation of kids who continue to pursue this same American dream that seems so pointless to me at the moment, should that be commended? Should that be pursued?
So what goal is left that is worth pursuing? Only one—becoming like Christ and living as a servant to all. What if we made our goal forgetting ourselves and forgetting the mad pursuit we are along with everyone else after the American dream, and instead we fell to our knees and washed the dirty feet around us? What if while we were down there we watched others speed on by towards the sad-making dream and boost themselves up off of our backs, and what if in that moment we found contentment in Christ? To me, that is a goal worth pursuing.
This is Jesus’ answer to the meaningless life described in Ecclesiastes. To find joy and fulfillment by not pursuing the pretty things that people chase after their whole lives. To wake up from the American dream and find that it is tiny and meaningless and sad-making. To be a servant of all, with no lower place to fall.
“If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” (John 13:14-15)
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:9-11)