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Successful people don’t sleep.
Grace’s message is inconsonant with society’s edict of excellence
This article was originally written for Mockingbird.
Steve Harvey is one of those pop-culture personalities so associated with his later-in-life career that his rise to fame is all but forgotten. If you asked the average millennial who Steve Harvey is and what does he do, the vast majority would tell you about his run as host of the daytime game show, Family Feud. But that’s probably about it. Honestly, I don’t know how he got famous, either, I just know that he is. Comedian, maybe?
(Quick Wikipedia search.)
Recently, though, I stumbled across Harvey’s newest vocation: preaching. Some might say “motivational speaking,” since this series of clips that are uploaded to his official YouTube channel all come with the moniker “Motivated.” But he uses the Bible. In one segment, Harvey is attempting to motivate his audience towards becoming
rich successful, and achieving their goals in life. He talks about his past, which is a true rags-to-riches tale, but laces it with the most thinly veiled dosage of dogged performancism. Yes, Steve Harvey is preaching the law.
Rich people don’t sleep eight hours a day.
In Harvey’s sermon, the poor are made rich only by more intense effort, and more zealous enthusiasm, and those who are successful ascribe to the Atkin’s Diet of sleep. In this seculosity of productivity, there’s no room for slumber.
Though many wouldn’t explicitly admit to such an ideology, many of us function as if sleep is a curse. As if it is nothing more than a cumbersome interruption to production and accomplishment. It’s an obstruction — one that must be overcome in order to “make it.” Such is why many of the latest technological innovations involve capitalizing on sleep. Sleep trackers and apps and monitors and white-noise machines, etc., are themselves thinly veiled productivity enablers. They function to allow you to rest more efficiently and methodically, so as to get through the daily hindrance that it is. “The cult of productivity,” writes David Zahl, “has taken captive its polar opposite, turning repose itself into a venue for scorekeeping and self-justification” (108) — into a stage for forging my own extraordinariness.
That was one of Harvey’s points of emphasis in his sermon. If you want to be rich and extraordinary (extraordinarily rich?), “you gotta get real doggish,” he says. “You gotta get downright funky if you wanna make it.” I’m not entirely sure what that means, but I guess I just don’t have that in me. Such is what writer Krista O’Reilly-Davi-Digui divulges as she wrestles with the law of excellence and significance:
What if I all I want is a small, slow, simple life? What if I am most happy in the space of in between. Where calm lives. What if I am mediocre and choose to be at peace with that? . . . what if I just don’t have it in me. What if all the striving for excellence leaves me sad, worn out, depleted. Drained of joy. Am I simply not enough?
“Not-enough-ness” is mankind’s existential groaning for righteousness. The ever-present angst over a life that is less than fulfilling remains the plague that afflicts every generation. Krista continues:
What if I never really amount to anything when I grow up . . . What if I never build an orphanage in Africa but send bags of groceries to people here and there and support a couple of kids through sponsorship. What if I just offer the small gifts I have to the world and let that be enough . . . What if I embrace my limitations and stop railing against them. Make peace with who I am and what I need and honor your right to do the same. Accept that all I really want is a small, slow, simple life. A mediocre life. A beautiful, quiet, gentle life. I think it is enough.
This bout with “not-enough-ness” is the heavyweight match of the century. We are all beset by the same legacy-lusting disposition that makes us cravers of the “something else” that is purported to fill the gaps in our lives. Scripture would call this the “old man.” You might also see this called the “old Adam.” Reformer Martin Luther would refer to this as a “theology of glory.” It is the voice inside each of us that shouts for recognition and significance and achievement.
Notwithstanding how noteworthy or successful our lives actually are, we give our accomplishments more weight than they’re actually due. It’s a symptom of the narcotic we’re all shooting. This generation’s drug isn’t (necessarily) an amphetamine — it’s notoriety. We are addicted to being seen and recognized and celebrated. Entangled in thickets of personal brands and individual kingdoms in which we act as both the advisory board and sole decision maker.
Society reminds us to make a name for ourselves. To busy ourselves with achieving dreams and creating legacies. But what if, like Krista, you just don’t have it in you? What if you are burned out on the quest for significance and success and want to make peace with the mundane and mediocre? After all, grace says something different. It says that notwithstanding my successes or failures, there is One who was extraordinary for me. Zahl writes:
Christ paints a portrait of a place where reward is not a matter of output or merit but grace, where we are valued according to our presence rather than our accomplishment, where all the boss seems to require of his workers is their need. (102–3)
Your identity is not tied to how successful you are at work, how well your kids turn out, how big of a house you have, how amazing your marriage is, how fit your body is, or how much money is in your bank account, or what kind of car you drive. It is not conditioned on how firmly you “seize the moment” and avoid sleeping. We are right to aspire and dream and pursue what God has created us to do and be. But so long as we are sacrificing our slumber on the altar of success, we are foregoing our humanity, and we are forfeiting who we were made to be.
Grace’s message is inconsonant with society’s edict of excellence. Grace disabuses our innate sensibilities that big achievements are worth more than the small and ordinary. It liberates us to find freedom, meaning, and purpose in obscurity. Our labors for achievement are made to cease in the incalculable achievement of grace. Jesus supplants all our striving after riches and renown with his perfection. Jesus himself says, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” — yes, spiritual and physical rest. His promise to us hamsters on the wheel is, “I have striven for you. I have accomplished everything for you.” You are free. You can sleep.
David Zahl, Seculosity: How Career, Parenting, Technology, Food, Politics, and Romance Became Our New Religion and What to Do About It (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2019).