Flourishing: growing or developing successfully
Theologically, it conjures up thoughts of the biblical notion of shalom, that blessed state of living in the presence of God that results from living righteously and doing justice. Psalm 1 offers of picture of this life showing the righteous one flourishing like a tree planted by streams of water.
In my circles, this word – flourishing – is thrown around often, so often in fact that it has lost most of its biblical connotations. Most often, it is not associated with joy, that deep-seated peace that passes all understanding that comes from fellowship with God and neighbor. Nor does it sound the least bit eschatological which is the biblical thrust of the idea. Often it has to do with one’s vocation. And most of the time it sounds more like a question of one’s temporal happiness than a biblical vision of flourishing.
As I travelled up to rural northern Michigan this past Thursday I couldn’t help but wonder how many of the rural poor, most not educated beyond high school or trade school, have the luxury to wonder if they are flourishing in their careers, working in their “sweet spot” as one person called it. And I wondered if this is not one more example of the sort of thinking that divides America between the educated or coastal “elite” and the rest.
Many of these people are those who clean my hotel room, serve me food, and check me out at the grocery store. They make the parts that go in my car and computer, those that have not been outsourced that is. They deliver the packages containing my online purchases. They work third shift and are generally paid overtime for working more than forty hours. Likewise, if there is not enough work in a week, they work less than forty hours and get paid less. In general, their lives, especially economically, have considerably more uncertainty than the lives of myself or my highly educated peers.
Some of these folks would tell you they would prefer to do something other than what they are doing to make a living. Some would simply shrug if you asked and say, ‘well, it’s a job.’ Talking about a ‘sweet spot’ or flourishing in their work would sound like nonsense. They are thankful they have a job at all.
Are they happy? Probably no more or less so than those of us who spend our time discussing whether a potential employee will be working in her sweet spot.
What’s my point? It is that while those of us with advanced degrees, particularly those of us in the academic world, sit around and discuss whether or not we are flourishing in our work, most of the rest of society simply goes to work. They do their jobs without thought of recognition, or awards, and certainly not with any thought to whether they are flourishing or not. Mostly, they hope that they will continue to have a job to do so that they can provide for themselves and their families.
Does this mean that we shouldn’t discuss vocational flourishing? Well….no. It is a worthwhile topic.
However, we seem to assume that flourishing means feeling good and being happy. That is certainly the case from an eschatological perspective. But exactly how that comports with one’s current vocation is not all that clear. What is clear biblically, is that to follow God’s call on one’s life is no easy task. Take a look at the prophets who were called by God to their task or what Hebrews 11 says about those prophets.
And take a look at what Jesus says about following him - our primary vocation. He talks about taking up crosses, suffering, and counting the cost. The trick in all of this seems to be flourishing in spite of one’s calling, not necessarily because of it. At least in this life. It is living out our lives before the face of God. That sort of life flourishes even in adversity.