I saw a commercial last night that made me angry. Before I tell you why and you write me off as a basher of all things capitalism, let me say this: I like being an American consumer as much as the next guy: I buy clothes because they’re on sale at Banana Republic (not because I need them), I have multiple pairs of running shoes that all serve the same purpose, I eat food that I like whether it’s good for me or not, and while my car would never be mistaken as ‘flashy’, it is fairly new. So I have bought into ‘the system’. But there are some aspects of the American way that I find unhealthy, and sometimes commercials give us a brilliant and unpleasant insight into our collective heart. This TD Ameritrade commercial is one of them.
The basic premise is that a TD Ameritrade investment advisor is willing to talk to her clients any time of day, no matter what else she’s doing. Running errands, working out, playing with her son, even getting into bed with her husband. It would be one thing if this was portrayed as a woman having an incredibly hard day – I get it, we all have days where work can’t be left alone and there always seems to be more of it. But the message being sent is that this is the standard level of service offered by TD Ameritrade. I don’t fault the company, they’re just tapping into something they see in us – we expect the people working for us to be working all the time. And that’s because we expect ourselves to be working all the time too.
Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert in their book When Helping Hurts point out that all humans experience a break in four relationships: with God, with creation, with other people, and with ourselves. Americans tend to see our lives through the lens of economics: each day the news reports gains/losses on Wall Street, and we even call people ‘consumers’. We see working hard as good – you’re contributing to the economy – and the harder you work, the better. The problem is that having a job doesn’t heal my relationship with God or others. In fact, having a job where I get no down time and constantly have to interrupt game-time with my children or bed-time with my spouse is just as much a symptom of the brokenness of my world as not having a job. The expectation that work is non-stop is often rooted in the need to find identity in our work.
I wasn’t angry with TD Ameritrade, I was angry with my culture for telling me the lie that work is my identity. I was angry with myself for believing it. The other day I was driving in the car, feeling overwhelmed with the amount of work on my plate, and I thought “Ok, I can’t take on any more. I can’t fit anything else into my schedule. Finally, I feel like I’m working hard enough.” For a long time, I had been feeling like I wasn’t doing enough…but now, when I felt like I was at a breaking point and couldn’t possibly fit anything else in, I thought it was ‘enough’. I was finding identity in my work, and the rest of my life and some of my relationships were suffering because of it. But I was working ‘enough’. That’s scary.
Jesus offers a different view of work, one that flows out of healed relationship with him. He says ‘Come to me all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.’ I don’t think he’s saying ‘stop working hard’. Instead he’s inviting us to find our identity in him. To let work be something that we do well because of who we are in Him, and to be something that we rest from, because it does not define us. I need to remember that. Sometimes it takes a TV commercial to remind me.