A leading figure of the Harlem Renaissance, the inspiration behind Lorraine Hansberry’s play “A Raisin in the Sun” and an uncompromising voice for social justice, Langston Hughes is heralded as one of America’s greatest poets.
It wasn’t always this way. During his career, Hughes was routinely harassed by his own government. And the nation’s literati, balking at his subversive politics, tended to overlook his work.
But the opposite was true abroad, in places like France, Nigeria and Cuba, where Hughes had legions of devoted readers who were some of the first to recognize the promise and power of the poet’s words. In my new book, “Langston Hughes: Critical Lives,” I trace Hughes’ budding international stardom, and how it clashed with the hostility he faced back home.
Building a fan base
Growing up in America, Hughes had experienced racism firsthand. As he matured as poet and writer, he started looking beyond America’s borders, curious to learn more about how racism impacted different cultures.
Between 1924 and his death in 1967, Hughes made trips to places as varied as Italy, Russia, England, Nigeria and Ghana.
During a visit to Cuba in 1930, Hughes met a young Cuban poet named Nicolás Guillén. Hughes had already successfully written dozens of poems inspired by the 12-bar structures, cadences, rhymes and subject matter of blues music. Over the course of several late-night dinners at Lolita’s restaurant in Havana, Hughes encouraged Guillén to do the same with his home country’s music.
Within days of Hughes’ departure, Guillén started writing poems making use of Cuba’s “son tradition,” a form of popular dance music. This was a key moment in the development of an artist who would go on to become Cuba’s national poet.
Hughes was also the only figure of the Harlem Renaissance who traveled to Africa. After several trips to the continent, he became determined to promote the work of his African peers – writers like Bloke Modisane and eventual Nobel Prize-winner Wole Soyinka. So in 1960, he edited his anthology “African Treasury,” which introduced many in the West to some of Africa’s greatest writers.
In countries like Nigeria, Hughes needed no introduction. In the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, dozens of Hughes’ poems had appeared in the country’s newspapers and journals. After Nigeria elected Nnamdi Azikiwe, its first native governor-general, in 1960, Azikiwe concluded his inaugural by reciting Hughes’ poem “Youth.”
When Hughes returned to Ghana and Senegal later in the decade, he was greeted like a superstar. Scores of his admirers trailed him in the streets of Dakar, much in the way sports heroes are hounded by children for autographs.
By the 1960s, Hughes’ works were being translated into Russian, Italian, Swedish and Spanish. But the first scholarly study of his poetry appeared in France. Literary critic Jean Wagner’s 1963 book “Black Poets of the United States” highlighted the talents of Hughes as both a poet and activist. Devoting over 100 pages to Hughes, Wagner noted that African Americans would never “produce a more fiery bard” who was simultaneously “one of the community refusing to stand apart as an individual.”
As the first black writer in the United States to make his living solely by writing, Hughes ultimately galvanized scores of emerging writers and poets in Europe, Africa and South America. To them, Hughes represented a critical Western link to other people of color around the world. He was also an exemplar of the jazz and blues music they so revered. As a testament to Hughes’ popularity abroad, it was Venezuela – not the United States – that sought to nominate him for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1960.
Making enemies at home
Back in America, Hughes certainly had his admirers, especially among the African American community. But most establishment figures – in politics, in the media and in law enforcement – viewed him as a menace.
As Hughes’ international fame grew, he was being denigrated as a subversive and a communist by his own government. Hughes had been under FBI surveillance since at least 1933, after he had traveled to Russia. Meanwhile his adamant calls for justice in the Scottsboro case of 1931 – when eight young black men were falsely accused of raping two white prostitutes – earned him the ire of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. Hughes’ piercing critiques of capitalism didn’t help his cause, either. Hoover would go on to wage a personal vendetta against Hughes, building a 550-page file on him that highlighted poems like “Goodbye, Christ” as evidence of his communist sympathies.
Then, in 1953, Hughes was called to testify before Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who wanted to use Hughes’ previous support of communist causes and his supposedly subversive allegiances to target suspected “reds” in the State Department.
The man who was exalted by political leaders overseas, who found himself elbowing his way through throngs of adoring crowds abroad, was attacked as “un-American” by McCarthy’s Senate Subcommittee.
Hughes was understandably conflicted about his native country, and he explored this ambivalence in poems such as “Let America Be America Again”:
Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.
(America never was America to me.)
That last line still resonates for many Americans – for those who have never known a golden age, nor tasted the nation’s promise of dreams, justice and equality for all.
How long, Hughes wondered in “Harlem,” would we have to wait? And what was the cost of kicking the can down the road?
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
Interestingly, Hughes had ended the first draft of this famous poem with the lines, “or does it atom-like explode / and leave deaths in its wake? Does it disappear / as might smoke somewhere?”
Writing on Aug. 7, 1948, the poet was keenly aware of what had happened only three years prior when nuclear bombs were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
To me, this perfectly encapsulates Hughes’ international appeal. The poet sympathized with those who had felt the harshest wrath of American power and politics. His intended audience was never just his fellow Americans who were grappling with fear and anxiety; it was anyone who had suffered great and devastating loss – an anguish that knows no language or borders.
When I see celebrities interviewed, I often marvel at how they seem to have it so together. Their confidence radiates when they are “on.” It’s almost as if they are on another plane than us regular folk. But after watching a few episodes of the new docuseries “Behind Her Faith,” I found myself forgetting that the women sharing their intimate stories of disappointment, triumph, and faith with honesty and raw emotion are famous people.
“Behind Her Faith,” created by writer/director Paula Bryant-Ellis, features Essence Atkins(“Marlon,” “Ambitions”), Aisha Hinds (“Underground,” The Hate U Give), Niecy Nash(“Claws,” “When They See Us”) and Angelica Nwandu, founder of The Shade Room. The docuseries launched its first season with each woman in one of four installments airing on the Urban Movie Channel, a subscription streaming service dedicated to Black film and television from AMC Networks’ privately-owned subsidiary, RLJ Entertainment.
“You see the glamour, you see the red carpet, you see the television shows, and then you say, even if they have problems, oh, they’re rich. Oh, they’re successful. They can get through. No, they’re just like us. They feel pain, just like we do,” said Bryant-Ellis.
The Urban Movie Channel, which launched in 2018, is in growth mode as it works to expand its viewership. As support grows for Bryant-Ellis’ vision, she’ll expand her circle of stories in future seasons to include accomplished women of faith in entertainment, sports, music, business, politics, and ministry. Behind Her Faith is the first major foray into filmmaking for Bryant-Ellis, as she has held multiple leadership roles in banking and finance. She’s a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Sloan School of Management, has an MBA from the University of Phoenix, and also a BA in Accounting from Concordia University. It was her son, Jay Ellis, who encouraged her to make the move. He’s the executive producer of the show and you may recognize his name from the actor’s lead roles on HBO’s “Insecure” (Lawrence) and the horror film Escape Room (Jason).
“He [Jay] was the one that said, ‘Mom, I think you should get into entertainment.’ After I left corporate America, he said, ‘I think you should start checking into producing so that we can do projects together.’ And so that’s pretty much what I did. And then, from there, I went back to school and took classes, and the creativity started to kind of bubble up, and I had a chance to create this show,” said Bryant-Ellis, who studied filmmaking and producing at the New York Film Academy in New York and Los Angeles.
It was her love and passion for Christ that inspired Bryant-Ellis to do the series. She had been praying for guidance on what to do next and feeling a strong desire to create positive content that inspires, especially since she believes that women of color are not typically represented well on television.
“God had my heart at the time. He put this show in my spirit to do. I wanted to use women that we knew their faces, but we didn’t know their backstory. We get sound bites a lot of times through interviews, but there wasn’t a form where they could just sit and tell you about what their journey looked like and the challenges that they faced and how they have endured and then the importance of a relationship with God in their life. All the women were women that I prayed about. God made it possible for each one of them to bring their stories,” said Bryant-Ellis.
She has a strong relationship with God now, but Bryant-Ellis says it took a while for her to mature in her faith. She grew up in a Baptist church and accepted God into her life as a teen, desperate for a lifeline from the pain she experienced when her parents divorced.
“I was just in this broken place. My parents had divorced, and I was trying to figure this thing out. I was 13 at the time. By the time I’m 16, I’m still sitting in all this pain, and I don’t know what to do with it. Back then, they called it, ‘join the church.’ You had to join the church, well technically, that meant you were giving your life to Christ.'” shared Bryant-Ellis.
And she did. But the experience left her heartbroken because she thought her life would immediately be better, and it wasn’t. For her, life got worse before it got better.
“In that moment that we accept Christ, our life does change. But nobody tells you about walking out that journey and the importance of a relationship. It was a long time before I picked up the Bible. I was very angry, very broken. It was a long time before I prayed. And in my twenties, I got on my knees, and I told God, I said, ‘You know what? If I’m going to be saved, you’re going to have to do better, because I can’t do church. I want a relationship,'” explained Bryant-Ellis, who said from that moment on, she was on an “amazing” journey to find that intimacy with God. “If I call you father, I want to have the same conversations with you that I would with my father. I want to laugh with you. I want to cry with you. I want to come to you for advice,” she continued.
Over the years, she has gone back to attending church off and on and credits one former pastor for giving her a love of studying the Bible.
“I go to church to get my Word, and then I’m out of there. I go to church to get fed. But then I know the responsibility of growing in the Word — that onus is on me. I have to be active and learning the Word and sitting with God, spending that quiet time with him in my praise, in my worship. That’s my responsibility,” said Bryant-Ellis.
And that intimacy is at the core of her message to viewers. When you listen to each woman in the episodes, openly claiming her faith and stories, it’s clear that they all have an authentic relationship with God, and it’s a genuine part of how they live their lives.
“I feel so honored that God trusted me with these stories and honored that these women trusted me with their voice. I feel like a shepherd of their stories right now,” said Bryant-Ellis.
It had been two weeks since Terri Anderson, a teacher at The Oaks Academy in Indianapolis, had seen her 19 prekindergarten students in person. But on a recent Friday, they met virtually for the first time on Google Hangouts. The result: a cacophony of 4- and 5-year-olds on unmuted microphones.
“It was the best sound I had heard since all this had happened,” she said.
As the COVID-19 pandemic has upended the educational system nationwide, even preschool has gone online. But school closures threaten to undo some of the progress that Indiana has made toward improving pre-K access for low-income families to help bridge critical early learning gaps.
Many pre-K classrooms have temporarily closed alongside K-12 schools to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Meanwhile, demand has waned at some Indiana child care centers as more families are keeping their children home. The loss of pre-K classrooms has consequences: First, education advocates fear that school closures will worsen the disparities for students across all grades who don’t have access to technology and whose families have fewer resources to support learning at home. Second, families could find themselves without child care as they continue to work during the pandemic in roles such as health care workers, grocery store clerks, delivery drivers, and custodians.
“One of the most important things children learn in a pre-K classroom is how to do school, how to behave with other children, how to self-regulate and be ready to learn,” said Maureen Weber, president and CEO of Early Learning Indiana, a nonprofit that provides and advocates for early education. “That’s one of the things that’s going to be harder for families to achieve independently.”
Because Indiana families have a lot of choices for where to go for preschool — districts, private schools, centers, homes, child care ministries — providers are tackling the challenge in different ways, both online and off-line.
At The Oaks, Anderson wanted the recent video meeting to be a joyful reunion for her pre-K class. She incorporated pieces of their daily routine, such as taking attendance with popsicle sticks that each had a student’s name. When she drew a student’s popsicle stick, she asked them to show the class a toy or something they had made at home, giving each a turn to speak “on the big screen.”
Anderson had them all hug their computers and give themselves hugs, too, wrapping their arms around their own shoulders.
“They need to be nurtured,” Anderson said. “They need a touch. They need a hug.”
Moving pre-K classrooms into the home also means teachers are supporting parents so they don’t feel stressed about their children “losing ground,” Anderson said. Teachers and instructional assistants regularly check in with individual students and families. The Oaks gives preschoolers 1-2 hours of learning each day, and more important than completing the work is instilling a sense of normalcy, she added. A lot of the key lessons are simple: Listen, follow directions, pay attention.
At first, parent Kelly McGary was worried when her son Sam’s preschool, Cooperative Play Academy on the city’s southside, closed its doors in early March. Sam had just learned to hold a pencil properly.
But now she’s less concerned after watching him video conference with his preschool class twice a week, and do engaging homework assignments, such as nature walks.
“I just have to put it in perspective. He’s 3½, he’ll be fine,” said McGary, a public health nurse. “Even if it lasts a few more months, we’re still interacting with him and providing for him. He has a safe place to play. I think he just misses his friends.”
At the Edna Martin Christian Center in Martindale-Brightwood, the approach to at-home learning has evolved over the last few weeks since the child care ministry temporarily closed its doors, said Alexandra Hall, director of early childhood education.
Teachers started by sending food home with students on the first day. Then, they started sharing learning resources. They gave students kits filled with art supplies, reusable writing worksheets, stories, and bubbles. Later, they decided they wanted to find a way to stay in touch with students in a dynamic, interactive way.
That’s how they started a series of 30-minute Zoom sessions throughout the day, mimicking a regular school routine.
“We figured if it works for adults, why wouldn’t it work with kids?” Hall said.
They hold virtual circle time and snack time. Families all gather for the video call with a healthy snack to show and share.
“That is what has just truly been a godsend during this time — to be able to look at people, even though you can’t touch them,” Hall said.
The online setting still allows teachers to be responsive to students. Just like in the classroom, “sometimes you have to throw your plan out the window,” Hall said — like when a student joined the video call in a superhero costume, prompting a show-and-tell that overshadowed the scheduled science lesson.
Even when e-learning isn’t as accessible, pre-K classrooms are finding ways to keep learning. For the five Indianapolis sites of St. Mary’s Child Center, where 93% of children come from low-income families, administrators are mostly focused on basic needs, such as directing families toward food resources.
Teachers are posting videos where they read stories, sing songs, or go on scavenger hunts. They’re encouraging families to find “teachable moments” but aren’t stressing academics.
“Children are such natural learners,” said Diane Pike, director of outreach and professional development. “If they are allowed to explore and communicate and ask questions and have that support at home, they’re going to be OK for kindergarten.”
Pregnant women in Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi have been calling nonstop to CHOICES Midwifery Practice in Memphis, but the center is booked.
The callers are terrified that they or their babies will contract the novel coronavirus if they deliver in hospitals. Some women live in rural areas far from hospitals and obstetrics units. The center’s clients are primarily black and other women of color.
“They’ve told us they’re going to risk it all and have an unassisted home birth,” said Nikia Grayson, a certified nurse midwife and director of perinatal services. “That’s very scary, and that’s what people are researching and seeing as a viable option.”
Many pregnant women are seeking out midwives to deliver their babies in homes or birthing centers rather than in hospitals, where they fear being exposed to the virus. But midwives and other maternal health experts say desperate women also are delivering without any medical assistance.
“It can go left real fast,” Grayson said.
Midwives across the country say they are stretched to accommodate additional deliveries because of the pandemic, while taking precautions to protect themselves and their clients. Midwives from Mississippi and Tennessee who deliver in homes are traveling to the rural areas around Memphis to help, Grayson said. But it’s dangerous to cross state lines without knowing where to go in an emergency.
The stakes are especially high for rural black women soon to give birth in Southern states. They have less access to health care providers and travel longer distances to care, while systemic racism and health care inequities put their lives at risk.
The coronavirus pandemic exposes a fragile health care system that already marginalized and traumatized pregnant black women, said Dr. Joia Crear-Perry, president of the National Birth Equity Collaborative.
“The intersectionality of being a black woman and that the rural South chose not to provide insurance coverage is a deadly combination for many,” Crear-Perry said.
In Mississippi, the state Department of Health should address the concerns of pregnant women and families and discourage unassisted home births, said Wengora Thompson, who manages the Jackson Safer Childbirth Experience, a project funded by Merck and the Kellogg Foundation.
Thompson said a local doctor told her that a family had attempted a recent home birth to avoid local hospitals. The baby needed resuscitation and is in intensive care.
“It’s important that they hear from some official body or some trusted source that this isn’t the best option,” Thompson said.
But even before this pandemic, some black women were reluctant to deliver their babies in hospitals, Grayson said. Experts point to systemic health care inequities and institutional racism.
And when they express their concerns to medical professionals, they’re often not heard. Even tennis star Serena Williams had to demand a CT scan and blood thinner when she experienced shortness of breath following a cesarean section and feared she may have had a blood clot.
During the pandemic, hospitals such as the Kaiser Permanente Medical Group of Northern California are offering inductions to women near the end of their third trimester. The goal is to get healthy people out the door before hospitals are overwhelmed by a peak in coronavirus infections.
Advocates say it’s important for women to have choices, but also question whether women may feel pressured to induce pregnancy. They’re also concerned that an increase in inductions will lead to riskier births and premature infants.
Inductions don’t benefit all pregnant and birthing women, said Jamarah Amani, founder of the National Black Midwives Alliance. In a pandemic, some physicians take less time to explain a patient’s options, she said. Studies and first-person narratives underscore communication gaps, such as physicians spending less time with pregnant black women, dumbing down explanations and failing to fully answer questions.
“Once again,” Amani said, “we’re seeing a situation where the needs and rights of birthing people are being pushed to the side.”
Barriers to care
Among the Deep South states, only Louisiana expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act to insure more low-income people. Many poor women have access to health insurance only when they are pregnant.
The U.S. maternal and infant mortality rates are higher than in most developed countries and are hitting black women the hardest.
Black women are two-to-three times more likely to die from causes related to pregnancy than white women, regardless of income or education. The disparity increases with the mother’s age.
Black women’s babies are twice as likely to die, especially black babies born in rural areas, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There is little public demographic data on midwives. But black midwives and advocates say there are few black midwives in the South, where restrictions on midwifery make it more difficult to practice.
Certified professional midwives, or CPMs, who deliver in homes, often are left out of health care systems and face legal barriers to practice with autonomy.
Unlike certified nurse midwives who attend nursing school, CPM training is in out-of-hospital settings. In some states, Medicaid reimbursement for CPMs is insufficient, while private insurance may not cover their services.
Despite the barriers, midwifery care is proven to reduce rates of unnecessary interventions and improve outcomes for moms and babies. Advocates such as Crear-Perry say some black women choose home births to avoid over-medicalized care. They also fear the medical system and its legacy of mistreating blacks.
Some advocates are concerned that the challenges plaguing black Americans can’t be addressed if leaders don’t acknowledge black socioeconomic disparities. A senior state health official in Mississippi recently told reporters he did not know why COVID-19 appears to be disproportionately affecting blacks and deferred to other officials to explain.
“In a state as seeped in structural racism as Mississippi, the fact that someone of that stature wasn’t able to communicate that effectively and said they didn’t know was really alarming,” said Felicia Brown-Williams, Mississippi state director for Planned Parenthood Southeast Advocates.
With lower COVID-19 testing rates in states with larger black and poor populations, blacks who couldn’t be admitted to hospitals or lacked access to care are dying outside of hospitals, Crear-Perry said.
“The next level of teasing out this data is counting the deaths that are happening in homes,” Crear-Perry said. “I’m afraid that when we start doing that, we’re going to start seeing some maternal deaths as well because people are not making it to the hospital.”
More black midwives could be part of the solution. Black midwives have long been beloved matriarchs in their communities. As local influencers, they encouraged breastfeeding, delivered public health messages and instilled confidence. But over the past century, black midwives have been whittled down to a handful.
A century ago, thousands of midwives practiced in several Southern states. They attended more than two-thirds of the African American births in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina.
But state efforts to professionalize midwifery and training that began in the 1920s, and a push for more hospital births under a physician’s care, precipitated a steep decline in their ranks. Alongside racist tropes that characterized black midwives as ignorant, superstitious and dirty, they were blamed for high rates of infant and maternal mortality.
In the late 1940s, Mississippi began to retire elderly midwives while also making it difficult to obtain or renew midwifery permits. By 1975, 98% of babies were delivered in hospitals, and there were 259 registered lay midwives. By 1982, there were 13, according to “Protect the Mother and Baby: Mississippi Lay Midwives and Public Health.”
In the South, Mississippi, Georgia and North Carolina are among at least 15 states where CPMs have no path to licensure. Georgia CPMs lost their ability to legally practice after the state’s rules changed in 2015, but Republican state Rep. Karen Mathiak has introduced a bill to license and regulate CPMs.
A CPM has filed a federal lawsuit against the president of the Georgia Board of Nursing because it’s threatened her with fines for publicly identifying herself as a midwife. She says the restriction violates her First Amendment rights.
However, certified nurse midwives like Grayson in Memphis typically practice in birthing centers or hospitals, although she also does home births. They are legally recognized in all 50 states.
Grayson says she is the only midwife and local provider in Memphis who does home or hospital births. Her clinic will open Memphis’ first birthing center in June and is hiring more nurse midwives to meet local interest.
Florida is a model for what’s possible in the South and across the country, said Amani, the National Black Midwives Alliance founder. Florida provides educational paths to licensure and requires Medicaid and private insurance to cover midwifery care.
Of 200 licensed midwives in Florida, about 15 are black, Amani said. Some states have few black midwives who may legally deliver outside of hospitals and in homes, and others have none, according to Amani and other advocates.
More black women would choose home births if it weren’t so hard to find black midwives, said Shafia Monroe, a black midwife and consultant who’s led national efforts to increase the number of midwives and doulas of color. Medical professionals often don’t educate pregnant women on their options for midwifery care.
“For black people around the country, the majority don’t know what midwives do, or they’re afraid,” Monroe said.
OB-GYNs tend not to like home births because it’s not a part of their training, said Crear-Perry, who’s also an OB-GYN. “All we see is the catastrophe.”
Crear-Perry and others would like to see a health care system that embraces the model of midwifery care, which includes home visits, checkups and other personal touches. They also want better integration with existing health care systems to keep women safe, especially during the coronavirus crisis.
“The capacity of the midwives that are trained is already strained,” said Jennie Joseph, a British-trained midwife and founder of a midwifery school and birthing center in Winter Garden, Florida. “We might want to consider physicians even delivering outside of hospitals to maintain that safety for the mothers.”
Most likely you’ve viewed numerous commercials advising the need to start retirement planning as early as possible so that you can live comfortably or to care for your needs in the golden years. It’s an attractive prospect for aging millennials. No more long commutes to work. No more hassles dealing with uncooperative people or someone else telling you what to do all the time. No more reminding subordinates of approaching deadlines. It means you can finally do nothing but kick back and enjoy life and live it up. However, there’s something the advertisers don’t tell you — God designed you to work before sin entered the world and to find meaning in work throughout eternity. And, contrary to what some believe, work is not a curse but a gift to us. Granted most, if not all of us, will lose vitality as we age in this fallen world or lose our health altogether. But if God designed us for work before the fall, he must have wanted us to find meaning in it. So, what should my attitude be regarding career and retirement?
Spiritual Attitude Regarding Work & Retirement
Authors Jinkook Lee and James P. Smith (2009) address the subject of retirement in an article entitled Work, Retirement, and Depression. Their research indicates that retirement is not always what it appears. In some instances, retirees experience a sense of depression because they no longer interact with their former peers in the workplace. And because employers look for younger employees with newer skills and smaller salaries, it often becomes challenging for these older workers to maintain a presence in the workforce. This is, however, in contrast to older workers who find satisfaction in a hobby or alternate line of work suitable for their age. Some continue working in a company beyond retirement years due to the nature of the job, such as being an insurance salesman or educator.
Elizabeth White, author of “55, Underemployed, and Faking Normal: Your Guide to a Better Life”
Now you may be thinking, “Okay! That’s well and good. But what does that have to do with me? I’m putting away for retirement. What else is there?” I’m glad you asked. As a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, we know that because we are made in God’s image our lives have meaning and purpose when we walk in His will. Scripture says, “For in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). My question is have you and I considered work plans that involve being fully engaged in some form of work beyond retirement? In other words, are you developing a Christo-centric mindset that allows you to develop the right spiritual attitude to make satisfying and essential career transitions?
Why is this significant? A few things come to mind. You may have noticed the world continues to change at a torrid pace, which means those skills you acquired through all of your hard work is at risk of becoming obsolete very fast. And so your journey to retirement may be significantly challenged due to resource drain from acquiring new skills. This, in turn, may require you to work longer than expected and most likely have to adapt to newer and more expensive realities. It appears that the challenge facing a new generation of Christians is can they maintain an eternal perspective regarding work, adapt to a changing society, and develop adequate retirement funds without hoarding.
Doing Lifelong Purposeful Work
I grew up in a struggling African American neighborhood in Little Rock, AR, watching men and women of color working as janitors, cooks, handymen, and bus drivers. No one talked to me about my career aspirations in a significant way. I don’t know where I got the idea, but I just knew I wanted to be an artist or a photographer. It was nothing for me to lose myself for hours in a drawing project; however, I could never muster up enough money to pursue the photography dream.
When I became a Christian, my dreams and pursuits took a detour as I yearned to find a purpose in what I was doing. I took up engineering and architectural drafting in high school and then a year in college. I was surprised when I landed a job with a small architectural and engineering firm. The experience was rewarding, but it didn’t fulfill my drive for meaning and purpose. After a year-long battle with cancer, my mother went home to be with the Lord.
I left the firm and decided to attend Calvary Bible College in Kansas City, MO in hopes of finding answers to what God wanted me to do. For five years, I trained as a pastor and radio broadcaster. My “purpose” didn’t reveal itself until I was appointed news director of a small radio station in Atlanta for Moody Radio. The station was part of a larger network of several around the U.S., and I discovered my love for urban outreach. It was the purpose I had been searching for. Through years of trials and challenges, I earned an MBA and a Doctor of Business Administration.
Looking back on my life and calling in Christ, I feel this deep sense of loss and regret that I discovered a deeper purpose later in life. I sense that growing up in a single parent household without the exposure to academic mentors and professionals prevented me from awakening from pursuing amazing opportunities and reaching my God-given potential earlier. Yet, all along the way, I have maintained an embedded desire to do something significant and purposeful. In a very real sense, the Lord has graciously granted me my childhood dream by transforming me into an artist and photographer with a different kind of canvas in which I utilize graphics, communication, and business research/analysis to illustrate the path to a better way of life for others.
Spiritual & Psychological Impact of Working Purposefully
In my estimation, God is the supreme master craftsman who has designed and wired humanity to live with purpose. A team of educational psychology researchers at the University of Louisville, KY — Kosine, Steger, and Duncan — seem to have a pretty good handle on the subject from a scientific perspective. In their research, The Purpose-Centered Career Development: A Strengths-Based Approach to Finding Meaning in Careers, the authors found that people who view work as meaningful are more satisfied and more committed employees. Their findings seem to dovetail what the Word of God talks about regarding the principle of living with purpose.
Essentially, developing a God-shaped mind to work with purpose is usually a work in progress that takes effort and intentionality. It means we become followers of Christ who creatively exercise our minds to filter career and life plans through our relationship with Christ. It means we need to take into account our natural bent and allow the Lord to shape and mold what we’ve come to know and understand about ourselves. It’s not easy letting go and letting Him rearrange things in our lives. Developing a God-shaped mind to work with purpose means we adopt principles of design thinking, which is simply making sure our career passions and goals align with all that He is and all that we are in Him. Even though you may feel a sense of regret for missed opportunities like I sometimes do, I’ve come to realize that so many are insignificant and I am what I am today because of the Lord was busy shaping and molding me through my circumstances.
Kosine, N. R., PhD., Steger, M. F., PhD., & Duncan, S., Ph.D. (2008). Purpose-centered career development: A strengths-based approach to finding meaning and purpose in careers. Professional School Counseling, 12(2), 133-136. Retrieved from http://journals.sagepub.com/home/pcx
Lee, J., & Smith, J. P. (2009). Work, retirement, and depression. Journal of Population Ageing, 2(1-2), 57-71. doi:10.1007/s12062-010-9018-0