There are thousands of ways to imagine the game of life. Since Aristotle said we think in pictures, living the best life possible requires finding the best picture possible. What is it?
Pictures frame the way we see facts and make sense of random life experiences. It’s why Einstein said imagination is more important than knowledge, and C.S. Lewis said we find meaning in our imagination, not in information. Left to themselves, facts are inert—they don’t mean anything. So how do we best picture the game of life?
For some, it’s football, basketball, rugby, netball, handball, field hockey, or lacrosse. How do we know? Because these sports share something in common—they all have halftimes. Some frame the way we picture life as including a halftime, where workers take a long timeout, retire to the locker room, and rethink their careers—transitioning from success to significance. It’s a powerful metaphor, and has caught on in many circles.
But what if the game of life is more appropriately pictured as baseball? Then there is no such thing as halftime.
We need the picture that best frames our working life. Baseball might best fit the bill—a notion columnist George Will entertains in his 1990 book, Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball. Will acknowledges, “Baseball is like church. Many attend, but few understand.” For those who possess only a nodding acquaintance with the game, baseball seems a rather simple operation. Men throw the ball, hit the ball, and catch the ball. Not so, insists Will.
Rather, baseball not only benefits the human soul but provides positive benefits for society. It emancipates the viewer by allowing contemplation of beauty, courage, and physical grace, and thus it educates us about life. It is perhaps the best picture of the workaday world. (See David Bentley Hart’s “A Perfect Game,” First Things, August/September 2010.) If so, there is no such thing as halftime.
If this is so, then there is no intrinsic transition from success to significance. “Halftime” advocates claim the first half of life is tilted towards success, where money and security is the driving force. That may be the case in some lives, and it’s unfortunate, because it’s never wise to confuse the anecdotal for the analytical. Furthermore, even if everyone’s first half of life is tilted towards success, it doesn’t mean success is a bad thing.
In creation, God calls Adam and Eve to be successful at cultivating the earth. He doesn’t promote mediocrity or failure. In fact, one of the worst examples of failures in Scripture—the man who buries his one talent—Jesus calls wicked and evil. Success—as in a profitable investment of one’s talent—seems to matter throughout life.
The same goes for significance, for making a difference for others. Jesus tells us to work in such a way that we are agents of shalom to all we come in contact with. Just as we are to love God, so we are to love our neighbor without ceasing. Significance is not something we begin to seek in the second half of life.
The halftime analogy is too neat. In Scripture, the tension is that we are to seek success and significance throughout our entire lives. It’s not either/or; it’s both/and. It’s not first this, then this. It is success and significance.
If life does not have a halftime, then we can waste a good portion of our careers with the wrong picture in our minds.
Our vocational calling must include trusting in God’s security and embedding our work with eternal significance from its inception. If we make a lot of money in the first half of our lives, then seek to find meaning for our money in the second half, we will have missed the adventure of trust that is to encompass both. We will have embodied a dualism that does not exist in God’s story, where security and significance are to be played together in one game.
“Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” is not a posture we are to adopt at midlife when we find that our own resources have come up empty. It is not a sequential command, but an overarching one.
This means that our financial trust must be connected at the beginning in our spiritual purpose. Our business is not to be valued because of some utilitarian use later in life. No. It is to have spiritual significance from its first day. “How” we work must be consistent with “why” we work. A kingdom mandate must infuse our calling from beginning to end. A kingdom mandate is not to be an afterthought or a radical mid-course correction after the promises of the world have been found wanting.
This means more than adding evangelism or Bible studies to the workplace. It means seeing one’s work through the lens of being an agent of shalom. It means organizing one’s work such that employees can find meaning in and through what they do. We work in order to husband God’s good creation and the ways sin has distorted it so that, in Christ’s power, we may bring healing to persons and the created order. And as God’s image-bearers, we exercise responsible authority in our task of cultivating the creation so that all people and all things may joyfully acknowledge and serve their creator and true king. Work is a created norm with a created purpose. All work is noble in itself, and must be organized so as to ennoble all who are touched by our product or service. Security and significance are the stereoscopic vision of the Christian, whether we are charting a course through seas of business, ministry, or family.
But to do so we must have the right picture in mind. Think baseball, not football.