All of my life I have been told that happiness is found by moving up: more education will open up more opportunity; more money will make my giving more effective; a bigger house will help my family feel more fulfilled; more friends will expand my influence; more power will enable me to do more good; a higher position at work will lead to more of the aforementioned.
And while I don’t think there is anything inherently evil in having more of these things, “more” is not the way of Jesus.
“Upward mobility” is not the way that he chose.
Henri Nouwen writes that “In a society in which upward mobility is the norm, downward mobility is not only discouraged but even considered unwise, unhealthy, or downright stupid. Who will freely choose a low-paying job when a high-paying job is being offered? Who will choose poverty when wealth is within reach? Who will choose a hidden place when there is a place in the limelight? Who will choose to be with one person in great need when many people could be helped during the same time? Who will choose to withdraw to a place of solitude and prayer when there are so many urgent demands made from all sides?”
But why choose less? Is this just one of those silly contradictions that people spout because it sounds wise in its enigmatic nature (ie, less is more)? Just because it’s a contradiction, does that make it a proverb?
Nouwen continues: “…the way of downward mobility, the descending way of Jesus…is the way toward the poor, the suffering, the marginal, the prisoners, the refugees, the lonely, the hungry, the dying, the tortured, the homeless – toward all who ask for compassion. What do they have to offer? Not success, popularity or power, but…joy and peace…”
That is what downward mobility has to offer.
As always, I am given a choice: will I follow everyone else as they fight and scratch and claw and work to get to the top, where the prize is money and power and stress and, in the end, emptiness?
Or will I follow Christ, downwardly mobile, “toward all who ask for compassion?” The upwardly mobile fight against each other – the downwardly mobile, at first, fight only themselves and the longing that have been imposed on them by their culture. But in the end the downwardly mobile will have joy and peace.
“The joy that compassion brings is one of the best-kept secrets of humanity” – Henri Nouwen, Here and Now
***If you’d like to read about someone who has had downward mobility imposed on him, and is making an even bigger difference in our community just by his example of perseverance and joy, please read my friend Ryan’s blog from yesterday where he tells the story of his uncle Gordie who is suffering from ALS.