During dinner the other night I decided to watch an episode of How I Met Your Mother. I’ve been cycling back through very slowly for the past year or so. If you haven’t yet watched through season 6, avert your eyes from this blog post until you do… unless you don’t mind spoilers, in which case, please keep reading.
It was a couple episodes after Marshall’s father passed away and Marshall was going through some serious self-reflections. He realized that his job wasn’t meaningful and he was upset that his dad never got to see “how he had turned out,” as Marshall put it. Marshall had wanted to become an environmental lawyer – something that had always made his father proud. But when his father passed away, he was just another corporate lawyer doing meaningless work for a decent amount of money. Marshall wasn’t okay with that.
While watching this episode, it sort of hit me: my grandpa has only seen me as the college or grad student, occasionally working a part-time job here and there to make ends meet. My grandpa will never get to see me realize the ambition of becoming a professor – something that I already know is a long shot in the field of biblical studies, but something I want nonetheless. After all, part of the decision to go to seminary in the effort of becoming a professor was to make my grandpa proud.
I think I felt quite like Marshall over this past summer. In between the end of summer semester and the beginning of fall, I started questioning the purpose of continuing on with more school, debt, and stress, especially if he wasn’t going to be there to see me achieve something. It felt like a waste of time to keep trying for something that has a slim chance of success anyhow, especially if my grandpa wouldn’t get to see it if I succeeded anyway.
Yet as the fall semester enters its third week, I’m beginning to realize that the real reason I had felt this way wasn’t because of my grandpa passing away; it was because of that little voice that tells me I have to earn acceptance, love, and value – things that my grandpa freely gave to me, even when he didn’t agree with the route I had chosen. Him not being able to see any future accomplishments is a huge bummer. But that doesn’t mean that he (or anybody else, really) had to be around to see it happen for it to have meaning. It doesn’t mean that the pursuit itself is worthless. And if I’m honest with myself, he wouldn’t want me to give up now, anyway (he didn’t want us to give up in anything we started, really).
Yesterday was spent doing nothing but Greek and Phoenician homework. While I was testing myself with the new vocab and memorizing all the consonants, I started to feel the sense of fulfillment I had in my first year. It wasn’t as intense, sure, but it was there. And I highly doubt that I’ll feel it every time I sit down to do homework, but to get a dose of it this early in the semester is a great feeling. At this point, all I can really do is keep going at it; keep checking off assignments one page at a time.
When it comes to achievements of really any kind, I don’t have to prove my worth to anyone. It’s there already. What I do have to do is prove that there are certain values my grandpa raised me with that I don’t want to let go of: doing all that I do to the best of my abilities, especially the things I enjoy. One of my favorite Proverbs carries a similar tone; “Do you see the one skillful in their work? They will stand before rulers; they will not stand before obscure ones.”
My point here is not to work as hard and as well as you can in order to be rewarded, but to do so because the work itself is the reward. The things we take joy in, the things that require our time and energy – those are the things that shape us, in addition to hardships, losses of loved ones, and pain. To give up in any regard, to quit before you’re really tested, that is to cheat yourself out of an opportunity like no other to be developed in a certain way – a way that God may want you to be developed.
For Marshall, as I already know what happens, this means leaving his corporate job, but in order to do what he’s most passionate about: environmental law. For me, it means keep going with what I’m doing because, as I’m rapidly discovering again, this is what I’m most passionate about doing – even if I never become a biblical studies professor.
To make one more analogy, my favorite musicians aren’t the ones with the catchiest lyrics or the biggest fan bases; they’re the ones who lose themselves in their music – who cast aside all worry and just have fun with what they do. I can bet it’s hard work, sure. But I can also bet that it’s worth every bit of it.
The real reward of a joyful, ambitious persistence isn’t money, fame, or anything material.
It’s who you become in the process.
 Prov. 22:29: Actual, literal translation of the Hebrew reads with the masculine pronoun, but the meaning is gender-neutral.