A few months ago I reflected on the discomfort I felt in spending five days a week 'saving the world' from my comfortable office chair. I was working for a reputable charityâcontributing to their amazing work in lifting people out of extreme poverty.
Through my small role, I was playing a part in helping thousands of people around the world. But something didn't feel right. I felt uneasy about the way I was using my time, coupled with the unnecessary financial advantage of working a 40 hour week.
Why did I feel so disconnected and disheartened when I was doing 'Kingdom' work? Why did I feel so distant from those I was seeking to serve?
The truth of the matter is that I was not really coming face-to-face with suffering or engaging in meaningful, life-giving relationships with the poor. By the time I got home after a long day of work, I was tired and unable to motivate myself to spend quality time with family and friends, let alone reaching out to my community.
Admittedly, some people are blessed to be able to intertwine their passion with their everyday work. Teachers, nurses, social workers, and many others are able to build relationships and reach out to the marginalised with the added bonus of getting paid for it.
For me it wasn't so simple. My search for full time work in the community continued to be unsuccessful and I started to lose hope in being able to pursue my passion for serving the refugee community.
I knew that I had to make a change and live out my ideals of living the Jesus way. For me, that included reducing the hours I spent at work, and increasing the time I had to invest into people.
I have now been working a 25 hour week for the last month, and while it isn't always been easy, it's one of the best decisions I have made.
I would be lying if I said that I never think about developing my career in development or pursuing my long-standing dream of working for the UN. But I know that I am most effectively using the unique passions and skills I have been blessed with, when I am spending time with those less fortunate than myself.
I will never regret having the time to love deeply, and know the stories behind broken smiles.
Part-time work, like all things, comes with a string of assumptions and false hopes. The first is: 'people who work part-time are lazy and have loads of time on their hands'. This is certainly not true.
There are many people who choose to work part-time for Kingdom reasons and work harder than anyone else I know. Once we have finished our 20-30 hours of paid work, we spend another 20-40 hours working for the community.
For me that will typically include things such as vising newly arrived refugee families, taking people to appointments, helping people find jobs, filling out hundreds of forms, listening to people's horrendous stories, and most recently, setting up my own charity. This usually continues into the weekend. It's tiring, its hard word, and it's sometimes very overwhelming.
Last week, surrounded by five or six Burmese families, a single mum of refugee background shared memories about her childhood. She told me how her mother used to make her go to sleep with her shoes and jacket onâjust in case they had to run away from the vicious Burmese military who destroy villages in the middle of the night.
'Part-time work is financially unsustainable'âthis is the most common response I get when people find out how many hours I work. This is a difficult one.
Yes, for some people, working part-time would not be an option. It would not work for a single mum on a minimum wage trying to provide for three kids. Even some two parent families would struggle to allow one spouse to be on a part-time salary if they were finding it hard to make ends meet. However, many of my peers are in the same situation as meâworking part-time is more than enough to cover my bills and sustain a simple, but comfortable, lifestyle.
I may not be able to call myself financially secure, but why should I be? Why should I take advantage of the privilege to save, when my neighbours cannot afford to spend?
Unfortunately, living the Jesus way doesn't include safety nets. Living the Jesus way is about casting out our own nets to catch those who fall. Giving up our luxuries and comforts, to community members in need.
With a wedding to plan, and a fiancÃ© who has been working for free this whole year, recent times have been on the stressful side. I am ashamed to admit that I have let a fear of financial insecurity take over sometimes. Still, I have chosen not to compromise Kindgom building because of fear.
Living the Jesus way, living counter-cultural
The societal norm is to work a 40 hour week, squeezing family, friends, church, community and fun into what's left of our weeks. There is nothing terribly wrong with this and we can still lead loving, generous, outwards focused lives. I tried to be superwoman and achieve this, but I failed. Even now, I continue to fall short of extending to others full grace and mercy as exemplified by Jesus
Choosing to balance our lives in a way that values community investment can be a challenging path to take, but it is hands down the most rewarding. Not everyone can be in a position of reducing their paid work, but some of us can.
I challenge you to have a think about some alternative ways of doing life. Ask yourself what truly matters, and how you can most effectively love the least of these as called to by Christ. You may realise that you don't need as much money as you think, or that you can restructure your week to free up some extra time.
If more of us challenged the status quo, we could radically change the way we define productivity and the need for consumption. Instead of deepening our own individual safety nets, we could work towards collectively catching the struggles of each-other.
Working for the Kingdom will look and feel and little different. It's supposed to. The Jesus way is sometimes uncomfortable and ugly, but it is the only way that gives freedom and hope, and love.
Bex Silver is from Auckland, New Zealand and has a Masters in International Development. She is currently setting up her own social enterprise working with former refugees to find meaningful employment. Bex is passionate about people and advocating for social justice through her writing.
Bex Silver's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/bex-silver.html