How can I work less and make more friends?

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J. Budziszewski

How can I work less and make more friends?

Sep 02, 2004 |J. Budziszewski

I'm in an engineering program at a public university. Most people think I have my act together because I've got scholarships, my own apartment, a job after I graduate, and no money worries. Most of my professors know me by name.

But I'm a workaholic. It's getting bad. I'll sleep every other day, and I'm working most of my waking hours. My close friends all have the same major, the same research, and most of the same classes. They aren't Christians. School and work are what we have in common, and that's all we talk about. If I'm not working on a deadline, I'm asleep. I can feel my entire perspective slipping from Christianity to something more like a dog chasing a rabbit. My prayers seem to have fallen to simple SOS calls. I can feel my mentality becoming more like my companions. I only eat when I'm working on something. Like I say, it's getting bad. If I don't set boundaries now, I'll probably have this problem all my life.

In the past I used my parents for balance and for a reality check. I know that Christian friends would be good for me, but honestly, I have little experience with any sort of friendship. Most of my friends before college hung out with me only if I was the only person left in town that they knew. I am incredibly afraid of letting people get close. People may have known me for a year and a half but not know a thing about me. My church and family take it for granted that everyone knows how to make friends or how to react around gals, but I have no idea, especially how to do it in a godly manner. When I ask about "How do Christians interact with people?", no one seems to understand what I mean, and I don't seem to be able to talk about it too well. To top it off, because the kids ridiculed me at church when I was young, I find it harder to trust Christians than non-Christians. In the Bible, most of what I find is nice generic advice that doesn't seem to help someone like me. Especially when there seem to be entire layers of communication I seem to miss.

I don't know if this makes any sense, but if it does, I'd appreciate some advice.


Thanks for your good letter. I think you're asking three questions: (1) How can you develop friendships? (2) How can you develop normal fellowship with other Christians? and (3) How can you bring your urge to overwork under control? Let's take them in order.

How can you develop friendships? The art of friendship is learned, and it's learned much the same way we learn other things: through practice and perseverance. Just like when you learned to ride a bicycle, you have to be willing to keep trying, even though sometimes you'll fall and get scrapes on your self-regard. Bear in mind that friendship isn't so much a set of "skills" as a set of virtues. At the beginning, for example, you may find it difficult to talk with people whose interests are different than yours, but work at it, because friendship is part of God's design for getting us "outside ourselves." They may feel like "Others," but that's the whole idea. They really aren't you — they're really different people — but they're made, like you, in God's image.

Here's a tip. Good friends can give each other a lot of counsel, if they're wise. But in order to give counsel, they have to understand your questions. If I hadn't read your letter, I wouldn't have understood your question "How do Christians interact with people?" either. Make your questions more specific. For example, you could say to a Christian friend "Tom, you seem to find it easier to talk with girls than I do. How do you get started?"

How can you develop normal fellowship with other Christians? Because you were ridiculed by other kids at church growing up, this may be hard to believe, but the best place to practice friendship is your college Christian fellowship group. Of course it has to be a reasonably healthy fellowship group, in which the members share not only faith in Christ but lovingkindness toward each other, and in which differences of temperament and gift are appreciated because each person recognizes the others as limbs of the Body of Christ. The sting of rejection by other kids must have been pretty awful when you were growing up. However, they didn't act like that because they were in church. The reason they ridiculed you was that you were different; children are conformists because they learn how to act by imitation. The reason they were cruel was that they were too young to have learned how to put themselves in another person's place. These are limitations of fallen kid-nature — not fallen church-kid nature.

How about the non-Christian study friendship you have now? The reason you don't get hurt in those isn't that they aren't Christian, but that they aren't really friendship, as you admit yourself. You see, by caring for others, we do expose ourselves to the risk of pain. The price of never getting hurt is never loving.

Here's what I think you need to do. Step one: Spend a few minutes thinking of those church kids who used to ridicule you. Step two: Ask for Christ's help, then take a deep breath and forgive them. Step three: Leave the past behind, and make a new start on Christian fellowship. There is an ancient saying: Unus Christianus, nullus Christianus — "One Christian is no Christian."

How can you bring your urge to overwork under control? The answer to this question depends largely on where the urge is coming from. There are a number of possibilities: (1) You're afraid that if you don't overwork, you might fail. (2) Work is a refuge from the burden of social interaction. (3) Work is a distraction from your problems. (4) You seek the respect and approval of your teachers as a substitute for the respect and approval of friends. (5) You don't overwork for any of these reasons, but because of an unexplainable compulsion — as someone else might have a compulsion to repeatedly wash his hands, and another person might have a compulsion to check the door over and over to see if it's really locked.

If the answer is (2), (3), or (4), then as you begin to develop friendships, I think that you will also find it easier to resist the temptation to overwork.

If the answer is (5), then you should seek the assistance of a Christian professional who is skilled in counseling people with obsessions and compulsions.

If the answer is (1), then you need to find out why you are afraid of failure, whether there are any rational grounds for your fear, and what you can do about it. We know you're a good student. Perhaps you are in a field suitable to your talents, but you're merely taking a heavier courseload than necessary. Perhaps your uneasiness arises from the fact that even though you've succeeded in all of your courses, God really intends you for a different field altogether. Or perhaps your fear is irrational, and you should talk to a Christian counselor about how to cope with anxiety.

Since you're a good student, I'll give you an assignment. Get into a Christian fellowship group. Attend regularly. With the help of a minister or counselor, draw up a schedule for yourself — one which puts reasonable limits on work, and which also includes time for fellowship, play, and sleep. When you feel the urge to toss the schedule and keep working, say loudly to yourself "No!" — and follow the schedule anyway. Finally, give thought to the questions and possibilities I raised in the previous paragraph, and feel free to write back about them.

The promise of Jesus is for you, too: "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

Grace and peace,

Copyright 2004 Professor Theophilus. All rights reserved.


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