Whether you’re an athlete in the middle of a tough sport’s season, a student in the middle of yet another semester of school, or an adult just trying to figure out what you’re doing with your life—at one point or another we have all wondered, “What if it doesn’t all pay off in the end?”
The saying, “It’ll all pay off in the end,” is a staple phrase in American culture, and rightly so. The belief that something will pay off in the end conveys degrees of confidence and justice that point to one of the central ideas of American culture: you get what you work for.
It’s the ideal that motivates people to work from the ground up in major companies. It fuels the idealistic and romantic “American Dream” that inspires so many people across the globe.
But what do we do when our dream shatters? What do we do when we don’t get what we deserve? What do we do when everything falls apart?
Redefining our end
While believing that everything will pay off in the end promotes determination, hard work and is a great tool for motivation, it also teaches us that we are not as valuable now as we will be in the future. Whether it’s winning a championship, getting a certain GPA, or getting a raise…saying “It will all pay off in the end” exalts the idea that our true worth and validation are in the accomplishment of things, not in the person of God.
The reason we are so devastated when things don’t pay off in the end, when we don’t get what we believe we deserve, is because it feels like an affront to our self worth. I don’t think I’m the only one who has found myself thinking things like, “I deserve _____ , because I worked harder than her.” But, it’s frighteningly easy to replace that phrase with the words, “I deserve _____ , because I’m better than her.”
How much of our confidence stems from the conviction of hard work, and how much of it actually stems from entitlement and pride?
Finding satisfaction now instead of just in the end
Even when my confidence is fueled by my hard work rather than my pride, it doesn’t make the situation any better. It doesn’t change the fact that I’m putting all of my hope in something temporal.
We need to be careful not to fool ourselves by thinking that we’re putting our hope in God, because we cannot find true satisfaction and true contentment until we take our faith out of God’s works and put it in God’s nature.
Who God is is a lot more important than what we think He does.
Too many times we try to find comfort in our mysterious and unfathomable God by trying to predict His actions. We think, “God loves me so of course He will give me ___,” or “God is good so there’s no way He’ll let _____ happen.” But thinking this way degrades God to the status of a mystical genie that is only here to grant our wishes and fulfill our desires. But our God is so much greater than that.
Who God is
The whole purpose of Christ’s resurrection was to give us hope that our broken and fallen selves could be remade, that we could partake in the perfection and holiness of our Divine Father. And, sometimes, things not paying off in the end is a really effective way of working that change in us.
When we don’t make the team, when we fail the test, when we get fired, we are humbled and brought back to the foot of the cross. We are forced to look at our reflection in the mirror of God, finding our true identity and deepest satisfaction in Him alone.
Devastation and heartache remind us that life is not about being rewarded for our hard work. Life is about seeking God, knowing God, and being made more like God. Rather than seeking satisfaction in the end of our hard work, we need to seek satisfaction by seeing God in the process of it, in the enduring of it.
The next time you find yourself seeking comfort in the belief that it will all pay off in the end, stop. Take a moment to direct your heart away from all of the stuff that you’re desiring and focus your heart on our loving, Heavenly Father. Let Him be the source of your endurance, the fountain of your contentment and peace.