Monday, December 3, 2012

Privilege & Guilt: to renounce or embrace?

I am now a part of the unemployed - strange. I belonged to this label a year ago but felt depressed by it’s crushing reality. Today I feel liberated and excited about what is to come. I have come to recognize and confess that this is the luxury of being married and living a lifestyle that can survive on one income. It is a luxury to be able to walk away from a job & a luxury knowing that we will still be able to meet all of our needs while I am not working. Before I quit my job, I felt guilty about the prospect of such a luxury. This idea of “luxury” and the fact that I did not want to abuse it kept me at a job that I had grown to despise. In my stubbornness I stayed, as well as out of financial necessity. I felt guilty for not being as grateful for my seemingly purposeless job that many others in this state really, really need and desire. So I stayed. I had what felt like a huge student loan payment (exceeding the amount of most of our bills) to make every month and I did want to pay that, even if it meant sacrificing my desire to be working somewhere else, wherever that may be. So I stayed. I struggled through these mixed emotions of guilt, responsible living, necessity, longing and discontentment for what felt like a much longer period of time than it actually was. Despite all of my internal warring with myself, I knew that the day I got to walk away from the job I had no desire to move forward in, it would be a luxury.

If I were a part of a different socio-economic class or I was not a native born citizen of the United States, it is safe to say that I probably would not have such a luxury. Would I even ask myself the same questions? What do I really want to do? Why can’t I find a job I love? Are such questions a product of my privilege or a product of the heart I was created with - one that can’t be still, one that craves to know the why, one that isn’t satisfied with accepting the answers she’s always been fed and one that desperately (oh, so desperately!) wants to please the Lord in every crevice of her life. Although the latter sounds more noble and holds much truth, I believe that the answer is both. My privilege and my heart make up who I am, so it really only makes sense that both would cause me to ask such questions.  

This is not a new struggle for me. Life has often lost it’s luster amid the ocean of self-condemnation that has drowned my joy and gratitude. The waves swallowing up the blessings, battering me to believe that I was not only unworthy of such things, but that I was living in selfishness if I enjoyed them too much. I am not quite sure how I had come to employ this rationale, but I know when and why they began to take root in this sensitive heart of mine. My first interactions with extreme poverty opened my eyes to what I truly had and bore my guilt in return. Once I saw it, I started recognizing it everywhere, even here in the U.S. At the age of 21, of course convinced that I knew much more than I really did, I confessed this to a wise, trusted friend as I explained feeling guilty for taking an overseas trip that wasn’t specifically for mission. He immediately responded and in love said to me, “Don’t do that to yourself, Lindsey. You will become bitter and miss the joy God intends for you to find in life.” (Not to mention we had a discussion about what qualifies something as a “mission trip” - certainly not the agenda nor the destination, but the intent. Which hopefully is always the same no matter where we go!) What he said did not alleviate the guilt I still carried, but it did propel me to consider what the appropriate way to deal with the tense relationship between the blessings in my life and the guilt I felt for having them. 

So for the last five years I have pondered such things, praying that God would help me not to waste the blessings I have been given. I believe that if we want to be humble people who do not take our provisions for granted, then we are going to have to admit that we’re privileged in comparison to the rest of the world. I have driven myself nearly insane asking the why - Why God was I born in the U.S.? Why wasn’t I born into a tent city or a dump? Why me? Maybe the answers will someday be revealed, but until then I must renounce the guilt and allow my empathetic feelings to encourage me to use my privileges for the sake of blessing others. Is this not what the Bible asks of us? Israel was blessed to be a blessing and a light for the nations. Is this not the example Christ showed us? Jesus did not keep His glory for Himself but extended His power to heal - in the moments He encountered brokenness during His time on earth and as He died on the cross, offering healing to all humankind for eternity. 

That day of luxury, it arrived. I got to leave my job as a result of financial provision. I am now freed up to pursue what I really want to do. I am confident that I am not wasting this luxury as I accepted an unpaid internship with an organization that is fighting human trafficking! God lifted the burden of my impending guilt by providing this opportunity and my gratitude spills over daily as I am loving my new job. To be able to live the life I know He has asked me to live,  I cannot allow my feelings of guilt to keep from doing something - I wrote a former post about Empathy and how it can propel or cripple us. I know that the only way to continue to live and grow in faithfulness is to admit to being privileged, renounce the guilt I carry for being so, and embrace the blessings for the sake of something more - knowing that it matters not what I have been given but what I will do with the blessings. 

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