I’m sure it will shock no one to hear that sometimes, sitting in my gray cubicle with the angry ringing phone, I get a little discouraged. Honestly, it’s not that the pay is low; it is, but I have enough to provide for my modest needs (and many wants) and not so much that I can’t sympathize with those in true need. It’s not that the work is boring and there’s no room for advancement, although those things are true too. More than anything, it’s feeling lost, irrelevant, hidden away in the windowless building like so much obsolete office equipment. Are my gifts wasting away in there? Shouldn’t I be using them for God? Will I ever figure out what I should really be doing?
I think many in my generation feel this way. As kids, we were told to dream big. As college students, we looked forward to our futures. Then, on our own in a precarious economy, we realized sometimes it was hard enough to keep or get any job. I know I used to feel like my horizons were unlimited, and when I hit the job market in 2008, I felt like I’d walked into a sliding glass door I’d never known was there. There are exceptions, of course, and many of us have rallied beautifully, creatively pursuing our dreams even when they look different than we thought. But for many of us, keeping the vision alive through the daily grind is, let’s be honest, hard.
On those kinds of days, I like to imagine what Jesus was doing when he was my age. Nothing too interesting to the outside world, apparently, considering all we know about it. We do know he worked with his hands, probably for the family business. It’s clear from his later life that he read the Scriptures and thought about what they meant a lot. He also no doubt spent a good bit of time watching the subtleties of nature, their slow cycles: storms telling the weather, fig trees blooming, grain growing – or not – from scattered seed.
I love thinking about those years of his life, hidden from the world, but known to God. Jesus never spoke to his disciples about that time, or if he did, the words were not preserved, making the experience doubly lost. But I know he didn’t see them as lost. He often speaks of secret things as precious to God, particularly in the Sermon on the Mount. He says God loves the prayers we pray in secret, with our door shut, and the fasting we hide from the world, and the money we give so sneakily even we barely realize it. Those who want credit for their acts of devotion, he says, have already received their reward. They can either have it now or later, and they’ve chosen now. But they’re going to miss out on the surprise God would have kept for them, something more beautiful than they could ever request or imagine.
So maybe I’ve learned something from my twenties after all, even though they haven’t gone the way I’ve planned. Realizing the meaninglessness of the dreams I used to nurture is surely a kind of meaning in itself. Maybe God is slowly teaching me that it’s not that I used to dream too big, but that I’m still not dreaming big enough.
Or maybe that’s just what I tell myself to get through days in the cubicle.
But I’d like to think Jesus is right there with me.