Survivor’s Guilt

Many people in the United States Church are mistaken in thinking that we somehow have more time than people elsewhere in the world. I’ve known several church-aholics who get angry when others don’t share their dedication to being a part of everything. There’s this idea that because we have so much in the US and because life is so easy relative to the people’s lives we hear about in Haiti or South Africa or Nepal, that the only way we can show God we are thankful is to neglect life and spend every free minute studying a language, witnessing, or doing service projects.

I call this “Survivor’s Guilt” due to its similarity to what many combat veterans experience when they return confused from war not knowing why it is that they survived and their friends died. We, similarly, don’t know why we were born here. Philosophical musings aside, those of us who read the news and the stories of suffering usually feel a need to do something; too often the truth is that we can’t do anything.

It’s hard working 40+ hours per week, and we may not work in sweatshops in China, but we do work a lot. Life here is not cheap and perhaps we have too much entitlement, but overcoming our own culture requires extreme effort, and I don’t ever want to downplay that. I have worked at reducing my possessions for the past 8 years, and even though my friends agree I don’t have very much, there are still things that I want.

Let’s be perfectly clear: We do not have any more time than anybody else. Yes, we have more money and generally more comfort, but our wealth does not extend to our time.  I don’t believe that God expects us to come home after 8+ hours of work just to do “his work” for the rest of the day, every day of the week. Perhaps “His work” is really just being there for our families (also downplayed by many people in missions). Does the Bible not talk about rest? And what happened to the Sabbath? We don’t talk about that. We use logical fallacies to guilt people into busyness. “If you truly loved the Lord, wouldn’t you dedicate every waking hour to Him?” Apparently that means watching a movie or playing a video game is out.

Speaking of, I used to play video games. It was my rest in the evenings. And then I got hooked on knowledge and learning, but I justified this because it was a ‘good use of time’. Until this past week when I realized that I hadn’t played some of my favorite games in years because I’d trained myself feel like any time is wasted that isn’t used to learn something or accomplish something. The other day I finally forced myself to play, and it has been a great relief.

I get caught up in language. At the same time that I’m answering my call to work with information security and software development, I’m thinking about how I need to be learning a foreign language, planning something overseas, learning how to teach better, etc etc, to say nothing of wanting to invest more in my friends, go camping more often, get out more, and find a girlfriend. I have really not given myself any rest. I work with a Burmese refugee family every other week to help them learning English. It seems wrong that I don’t consider that enough. It’s like my pride demands I “accomplish something greater”. Whatever the hell that means.


So here’s my plan: 1) study what I need for my career. Dedicate this to Lord, and make sure I’m being generous with the proceeds, because this line of work does come with good proceeds. 2) Make sure I am staying in Christian community. 3) keep working with the Burmese family. They may already be Christians, but they are still my ministry. 4) I would be a happy camper if I could get through chapter 8 of my Nepali book by next summer. That requires only an hour or two each week.