Please welcome today’s guest writer, Jeremy C. Smith. Jeremy graduated from Calvin in the spring of 2015 with a major in strategic communication and short of a class or two in three or four other minors (anti-climactic). After co-directing the Entrada program, he moved out to Berkeley, CA and eventually to Oakland where he now resides on Lake Merritt. He began working in solar and recently transitioned to Google at their HQ. He loves good tacos, the Oakland A’s, a ridiculously wide spectrum of good music, traveling (too much) and his lady, Catherine. Oh, and the fact that he can now grow a mustache.
Discontent never ceases to surprise me. Two significant experiences recently encouraged me along this path of thinking. Most recently, I was gathered with a few fellow Oaklanders on a warm April Sunday morning. Over a coffee and Turkish Delight, we talked about work. Our discussion was challenging; we were encouraged to think beyond our eight-to-five while simultaneously not excluding its legitimacy as a form of work. Around our little circle we confessed our perceptions of what constituted as work. Listening, I felt cynicism creeping into my mind causing me to question whether each contributor gathered was bent on one-upping the next with a more creative response. When I managed to stifle my questions and urge to one up, I found myself blurting out words I could not retract.
“I know this sounds potentially ungrateful, but I don’t really know if I see my work as significant.”
I paused to embrace the anticipated looks of disapproval.
“Like, I see the company I work for as significant, but I’m not sure if I actually see my role as all that significant, if I’m honest. Like really, what am I doing? That’ll last?”
My comment was laced with the influence of Leo Tolstoy’s vulnerable ruminations from A Confession. Tolstoy writes, “What will come of what I am doing today or tomorrow? What will come of my whole life? Why should I live, why wish for anything, or do anything?” Unexpectedly, I found solace in his words, particularly in light of the perceived meaninglessness in my post-undergraduate life. In spite of the liberty that these words provided, I still found my thoughts tethered—why? My Christian mental undertone recalled the Apostle Paul’s words in First Corinthians 15, verse 58.
The saint challenges the Corinthian listeners to stand firmly in the Lord because their “work is not going to waste.” Tension settled deeper. It was hard to concede to myself, let alone my friends that comfort arose in my discontent. In previous seasons of life, this would be the point where I’d essentially tell myself to cheer up. I’d disregard my feelings and seek scripture or cultural nuances, reminding myself of a resolution far off. I’d give no space to critical assessment or experiences of cognitive dissonance, only to the emotions that are palatable to whomever was listening at the time. But my thoughts seemed to veer away from my old patterns of thinking. Instead I stood obstinate to my naive willingness to agree with what I’ve been taught, or that which I’ve known to be truth.
In the end, I found the affirmation I struggled to feel in and of myself through a short, fictional story: J.R.R Tolken’s Leaf by Niggle, a most peculiar title for a most peculiar means of salvation. A good friend responded to our small group’s vulnerability by taking the next ten minutes to vividly depict the anguish Tolken felt in his lifetime. Much like Tolstoy (and all of us, at times) he wrestled with the finitude of his work. The beauty of it all, as told by my buddy, is the work that came from his moments of crisis: the story of Niggle. As I listened, I began cynical but was quickly disarmed by the identification I could feel as I found common ground with ambitious Niggle.
Many things occurred from that point forward, but one stands above all: I didn’t find comfort in the way that I’d categorize as correct, traditional or Christianly, but I wonder if that’s how it was intended. I wonder if the surprise of discovery is a joy worth appreciating, especially when it draws us into the universal human experience like discontent. Maybe there’s a proper space for comfort to be found in discontent.