This year our two older sons, Mark and Stephen, graduated from university. One is with us in Singapore, the other in Melbourne. As parents, we rejoice that the two of them have successfully completed a key part of their development and growth. There is just one thing. Neither of them have yet to land permanent jobs, which tells us a number of things. One, there may be no such thing as a permanent job in today’s “new” economy. Two, the life plan we inherited from our parents no longer holds true.
Growing up in a Chinese diaspora family in Malaysia, I was repeatedly told that I had to work hard so that I could get good grades. Good grades would ensure that I could get into the right courses in university, which would ensure that we could get the right jobs. Once we had the right jobs, we would be home free. We would have financial security, and with financial security would come a comfortable lifestyle, and the potential of choosing a good mate and raising an ideal family.
Well, this life plan no longer works. Both my boys graduated with good degrees. One has been without permanent employment for almost a year. A large part of this can be blamed on the global economic downturn. Pundits tell us that the turnaround this time will take longer. But even if the downturn had not occurred, the whole notion of job security was beginning to change in the harsher realities of the new economy. Which may not be a bad thing if it helps parents and children alike realise that true security lies only with the Lord.
I understand why folks in my parents generation believed in the old life plan. Firstly, they or their parents had left China to come to a new land to make a better life. (Immigrant communities anywhere in the world will understand this.) Next, they had suffered unimaginable hardship during World War 2. Of course they wanted their children’s lives to be more secure than theirs, and like most immigrant communities, they believed that salvation would come from education and hard work. Religion was at best tolerated and the usual warning was, “religion is ok but to ensure your future, you better work hard in school.” This was the mantra heard in most homes in those days, including Christian ones.
But if Christ is real, and His teaching is true, the only true source of our security is in a heavenly Father who loves us (Matthew 6:19-33).
“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”(Matthew 6:31-33 NLT)
Is this what we teach our children? Do we really believe Jesus?
I am not arguing that it is ok for Christians to be lazy. The parable of the talents condemns the lazy servant (Matthew 25:14-30) in no uncertain terms. And the same parable also gives us the biblical basis for hard work — we want to be good stewards of the potentialities that God has given each one of us. It is a sin to waste our lives. We should all seek to be all that we can be for the sake of others and for the glory of God. Followers of Jesus are not slackers. It is just that we do not worship hard work as the god who will take care of all our needs.
Our present employment uncertainties may serve as a wake up call to the church in how we do evangelism and discipleship. If the old game plan no longer works and hard work alone is no longer a reliable god, we will have a whole generation of young people growing up looking for hope and purpose. The death of any “god” is a good time to share about the real One. However, our evangelism will only have credibility if we are living out a real and robust hope in God ourselves. We need to ask if we are nurturing the people in our churches and in our families, to become people of real faith in a real God.
We agonise with our two older boys, wishing and hoping that they will get good jobs that will allow them to put into practice what they worked so hard to learn in university. But we know that there are few guarantees in life. Mark and Stephen should know that too that since both of them have already lost one parent to cancer. But what they also should know, and they do, is that there is one guarantee in life they can count on — the love and care of a sovereign God. And so while Bernice and I are proud that Mark and Stephen have graduated, we are even more proud that they trust in God and continue to live the adventure of their lives with faith.