As the child of Asian immigrant Christians, I had a set of rather confusing, somewhat conflicting beliefs about what my priorities ought to be. “Being godly” and “serving God” and “obeying God’s calling” were obviously supposed to take precedent. (Quotation marks are not sarcastic, just indicating that these are phrases whose meaning is no longer clear to me.) But Chinese families tend to place very high value on education and work. For all the church services we attended and Bible verses we memorized, it seemed like earning money (aka security) was actually the top priority.
Growing up, I tried to reconcile these competing priorities by believing that God was calling me to get good grades.
This verse from Colossians 3 bailed me out a lot: “Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters, since you know that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you serve the Lord Christ.” I ended up with a set of strict binary dichotomies. Holy work vs. secular work. Godly calling to help others vs. my own selfish desires for “job satisfaction.” Hard work and suffering for God’s kingdom vs. indulgent, lazy acquiescence to my own strengths and preferences. For a long time I believed that, to be God’s work, a task had to be unpleasant, thankless, and not rewarded by too much money or happiness. (I swear this is what I was actually taught and not just my delusions.)
Classroom teaching represented the perfect blend of masochistic martyrdom.
Okay, that’s not entirely fair. There were many things I enjoyed about teaching. There were also many things that I think I did well as a teacher. For a number of years, I believed teaching was my Calling. With a capital C. But for all my modest outward success in the classroom, teaching was always draining and stressful for me. Seven hours of extroverting followed by endless piles of grading, planning and paperwork, along with the impossible expectations of conformity were not in line with the highest and best use of my strengths. It took me six years and having a kid for me to fully understand this. Acceptance is an ongoing journey.
Confession: I enjoyed the admiration (usually tinged with, “SO GLAD it’s not me”) I got from saying, “Yeah, I’m a teacher. High school, mostly sophomores. Biology, you know, cells and evolution and genetics and stuff.” Now I sometimes struggle with feeling as though my freelance work isn’t life-changing or “godly” enough. Has anyone ever thanked their web designer or copywriter when accepting their Nobel Prize though? On the other hand, uh, have any of my students won Nobel Prizes and thanked their high school biology teacher for teaching the Krebs Cycle? Hmm.
Lately, I’ve started seeing how I can use my creative skills to directly serve people and causes I believe in. And it’s great.
Progressive organizations need web sites and marketing too, as it turns out. For the past six months I’ve had the privilege of working with the Family Pride Network of Central Ohio on their new and improved website, which should launch soon. The organization exists to support and empower LGBTQ families through events, a safe online forum, and a directory of Proud Partners committed to serving everyone equally. I’m a straight cishet female ally so I will never truly understand the struggles these families face every day. But I can use my WordPress skills (and stubborn Googling when I get in over my head) to support others’ right to live full, authentic lives. Not bad for a day’s work. (Okay, six months, whatever.)
Progressive Asian-American Christians:
In September, a group of scared privileged white men took it upon themselves to remind minorities of every kind that they believe God really doesn’t care about them. And a group of progressive Asian-American Christians (PAAC) calmly stood up, brushed the dust off our sandals, and declared, “Not today, Satan.” Within a week, more than 30 individuals had drafted an affirming Statement on God’s Justice to counter the small-minded misstatement on social justice. (Look it up if you really want to read something hurtful and cowardly. Not signal-boosting it here.) We just needed a place to publish the Statement on God’s Justice and collect signatures. I am not a theologian, scholar, pastor, sociologist or journalist. But I am a mother and a woman of color, and I sure as hell (lol) can build a website in 36 hours. Which is less time than it took my kid to be born, so there’s also that. And now these life-giving words are up for whoever needs them.
My local church:
I also have the honor of serving on the editorial team of the PAAC blog, As I Am. With my co-editors I get to help Asian-AMericans find their voices and tell their stories. My role as an editor has made me a better writer more than the other way around, but I love being able to use my writing skills (and life experience) this way. Naturally, my design and marketing skills have also been called to serve in the church I joined here in College Town.
A brief note about money:
I also used to subconsciously believe that any “work for God” had to be unpaid (and generally unpleasant) to really count. Money is the root of all evil, right? I wasn’t super comfortable talking about or managing money until well into my late twenties. When I did photography, I was super insecure about charging for my work. (And I was just not very confident as a photographer in general.) But now I’ve come to see money as a tool. I can use money to directly support causes I believe in. I can also collect enough money for my paid services to support the unpaid volunteer work I do. Either way, I am a lot more confident handling my business and personal money now.
Doing work that lines up with my strengths allows me to be a happier, less stressed, generally better parent.
In addition to directly supporting progressive organizations and small business owners with my time, skills, and knowledge, doing flexible creative work lets me do my primary work of parenting and spousing better. The main reason I did not return to teaching is because I did not believe I could be both the kind of parent and the kind of teacher I wanted to be. Many of my colleagues do both and I am in perpetual awe of them. But for our family, it made more sense for me to stay home. We are privileged enough for me to be able to work flexibly and hold down the fort.
Over time I have come to see that there is no one right way to “serve God” or “do godly work.”
I have friends who are pastors that do just as much work for the Kin-dom of God as do those who are primary parents raising future humans. Perhaps God calls us to serve in many ways, or maybe God doesn’t call us to serve or do anything in particular. Rather God calls us to be our truest selves no matter what we do.