At my alma matter, there’s a tradition. Each new fall semester, a girl’s dormitory floor and a boy’s dormitory floor are paired up. For the rest of the school year, they eat together, sit together in chapel, and just generally get to know one another.
Overall, I loved this tradition. But every year for me, it involved a rather unsettling ritual. Every year, without fail, as I met the new people I would have a meal-time conversation with someone. We would talk about our families and choice of major. But the next time I saw them – often within 24 hours – they would re-introduce themselves to me. “I’m sorry,” they’d say, “Hi, we haven’t met.” We would repeat the conversation from the day before… the déjà vu never clicking for the other person.
If this had happened just once, I could write it off as just having met an especially forgetful person. But this happened to me multiple times all four years I spent meeting new floors full of guys.
Hoping that we’re memorable is, I think, a pretty basic human emotion. Even if we ourselves are horrible at remembering names – we still feel a small twinge when someone forgets our name. We hope that someone at the party we couldn’t make it to asks, “Hey, where are they?”
It isn’t just in interpersonal relationships we hope to be remembered. I always feel a deep mixture of hope and despair when I read a biography about someone like William Wilberforce. A hundred years later, we still celebrate his accomplishments. Will I do anything with my life that will still be helpful a hundred years in the future? I hope I will. I despair I won’t.
I’ve been reading a lot lately about overwork. Of all the generations past, we seem to be the most frazzled, overworked, margin-less group yet, but also the least satisfied with our undertakings. I wonder if part of this need to overwork ourselves comes from the deep sense desire to do something meaningful. Memorable. To do something that will outlive the day.
The recommended cure for overwork is nearly always the same. Take a day off. Cultivate a better relationship with your family or friends. Learn to say “no” to energy or time draining jobs, people and activities. All great recommendations. Then why do I (and maybe you?) find it so hard to shut off and truly rest? Why do I keep saying “yes” to everything and everyone?
Maybe because when I’m not busy, I feel less meaningful. That somehow if I’m not always engaged in work, the sum total of my life will be a zero. That maybe if I take on one more task or work one more hour, I will finally do something that will endure for another hundred years.
I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. Ecclesiastes 3:14
I find it hard to truly rest because I’m too busy trying to be like God. I’m too busy trying to be memorable with something – a reputation, a piece of work, a contribution to society – that’ll endure forever. But that’s God’s business – not mine.
The odd paradox is, when I rest in God – that’s when I’m most likely to do something to help someone else. When I’m charging selfishly into work I think will make me meaningful, that is when I’m least worthy of someone’s memory.
Working to please or someone else myself means I only spin my wheels faster and faster. And there’s no guarantee the people I tried to impress won’t ask, “Have we met before?” the next time I see them. Working to please God means for eternity I’ll hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
That’s the kind of meaning I can rest in.