“By the time Sealy Yates was just 25, he had already full-filled his life’s dreams. He had gone to law school, passed the bar exam, landed a great job. He had married a wonderful woman, and they were busy raising their first child. Life was good.
That’s when Sealy slumped into a profound depression. He was too young for a midlife crisis, yet he found himself asking all the same questions: Is this all there is? Is this what I want to do for the rest of my life? What’s the meaning of it all?
Sealy was not naturally depressive, so he probed for some reason behind it. And the answer he discovered was one that no psychologist would have guessed: The key to recovering joy and purpose turned out to be a new understanding of Christianity as total truth – an insight that broke open the dam and poured the restoring waters of the gospel into the parched areas of his life.
Years ago, at the age of fifteen, Sealy had responded to an altar call at a Baptist church. From that moment on, he new deep in his bones that what he wanted most was to serve God. At first, he figured that meant doing church work of some kind-becoming a pastor, missionary, or music leader. “I wanted to live for God,” Sealy said, “and the only frame of reference I had said that meant full-time Christian work.”
Sealy, however, didn’t have the skills for any church-based profession. In reviewing his aptitude tests, a high school guidance counselor suggested that he consider becoming an attorney…he prayed, he worked hard, and now he had made it.
So why wasn’t he happy? His dream had come true, yet he was miserable. He maintained a heavy schedule of church activities, but a spiritual hunger still gnawed at his heart. Maybe he had made a mistake. Maybe he really had been called to full-time church work but had ignored God’s call? Maybe he should drop his job and go to the mission field?
Christians who are seriously committed to their faith often experience this inner tug-of-war. Like Sealy, most of us absorb the idea that serving God means primarily doing church work. If we end up in other fields of work, then we think serving the Lord means piling religious activities on top of our existing responsibilities- things like church services, Bible study, and evangelism. But where does that leave the job itself? Is our work only a material necessity, something that puts food on the table but has no intrinsic spiritual significance? Is it merely utilitarian, a way of making a living?
Sealy discovered that it was just such questions that were driving his depression: He had no idea how to integrate his Christian faith with his professional life…What he thought was depression turned out to be an agonized longing for spiritual meaning in his work. Adding church activities to a completely secularized job was like putting a religious frame on a secular picture. The tension between his spiritual hunger and the time demands of a purely “secular” job was tearing him apart inside.
…In every profession, the prevailing views stem from some underlying philosophy – basic assumptions about what is ultimately true and right. That means Christians need not feel out of place bringing their own assumptions into the field. Sealy began to claim the freedom to bring biblical understanding of justice, rights, and reconciliation into the legal arena.
The dilemma Sealy faced is not uncommon for Christians in any profession…modern society is characterized by a sharp split between the sacred and secular spheres- with work and business defined as strictly secular…We all long for our work to count for something more than paying the bills or impressing our colleagues…By understanding that all honest work and creative enterprise can be a valid calling from the Lord. And by realizing there are biblical principles that apply to every field of work. These insights will fill us with new purpose, and we will begin to experience the joy that comes from relating to God in and through every dimension of our lives…If Christian churches are serious about discipleship, they must teach believers how to keep living for God after they walk out the church doors on Sunday.”
This is an issue my soul continues to dwell on. I can’t seem to shake the fact that I’ve left the “mission field” for a full-time secular job. The waves of misunderstanding and confusion flood my heart. Not as much as before. It’s no longer an every day battle. Yet, once in a while, the question “Am I spiritual enough?” will gnaw at my innermost being. I’ve questioned my “calling” from the Lord, I’ve questioned his purpose for my life, I’ve questioned if I’ve stumbled off path or if I’ve missed His will somewhere along the way.
It seems I’m being redundant with these questions, but I’ve never gotten clear answers. I will just push it aside for a bit, but it always comes back to haunt me. I have spent time in prayer, though probably not enough. When I talk to people, the usual response is to “pray about it,” which unfortunately doesn’t comfort me. Instead, it makes me feel as if I’m not praying enough and if I were praying enough God would give me answers. Leaving me feeling like more of a spiritual failure than before. Despair…Frustration…Tears…Anxiety…Uncertainty.
And in the midst of it all, reading a book called “Total Truth” by Nancy Pearcey for my seminary class, I came across a narrative that was almost exactly what I’m going through. I have yet to physically meet a person who knows what I had been through and has been there too. When I read this story, however, I “met” someone who had walked in my shoes and that has provided true comfort. (This is the reason I have always loved books!)
It’s a very long passage, but I want to share excerpts from Pearcey’s book to help shed light on my situation and also to encourage others if they’ve felt this way too.
I have felt like Sealy the past four months…like I have maybe missed my purpose. Yet, what if I haven’t missed my purpose, but my thinking has been misdirected? What if my purpose IS to discover how to minister in a secular position and make my everyday life a “mission field?” And what if my purpose IS to help disciple others to think this way?