When Hustle Is an Idol

coffee cup with the word "hustle" on it
Idol. Yes, hustle is an idol if it draws you into practices that take God off the throne of your life.

Hustle. I first started hearing the buzzword last year. It appeared in popular self-help books and the social media posts of multilevel marketing superstars. Hustle, or working hard to achieve your goals, seemed to be the magic ingredient of success.

In Christianity Today’s “Lord, Save Me from My Side Hustle,” Rebecca Jones writes:

Hustle is the gospel of good momentum. Although the word used to simply mean hurry, now it’s a credo and cult, a secret handshake betwixt movers, shakers, and mom‐prenuers.

I’m not going to lie; I was deeply attracted to the concept. If I simply work hard enough, I can get everything I desire? The expensive clothes? The exciting experiences? The extravagant vacations? The perfect home/work/play balance? Who wouldn’t want that? I have always had a strong work ethic. So why shouldn’t I harness it to achieve my dreams?

The golden calf

While it sounded so enticing, little alarm bells began sounding in the back of my mind. And I suddenly realized why I liked the idea of hustle: Hustle puts the reins of my life in my hands. It’s a formula. If I do X, then I will get Y. And boy do I want Y!

This is a thought process that has afflicted me all my life. When I was single, Y was a husband and family. I combed every corner of my life looking for that magic formula: If I do X, then I will get Y. If I work out more to make my body look a certain way, then … If I tone down my personality to be more like the girl getting the dates, then … If I focus on Jesus so hard that all other desires fade away, then … Then.

I’m sure you can guess how all that hustle worked out for me. It flopped flatter than a pancake, and all my efforts left me feeling empty, helpless and more frustrated than before. The formula didn’t work. (I did eventually get married, but not as the result of my own efforts.)

Last year, when the concept of hustle entered my life, I felt familiar thoughts cropping up: I can do that. I can work hard and grasp my every desire. The thing is, when one desire is met in your life, others inevitably take its place. That’s why the ridiculously rich are no happier than the rest of us. No amount of money, worldly pleasure or hustle can satisfy our deepest longings.

When we read about the Israelites in Exodus 32, they were getting restless. Moses had gone up to Mt. Sinai for 40 days and nights to meet with God. In his absence, they began to wonder if he was even coming back and decided to create another plan. They asked Moses’ brother, Aaron, to make them a calf out of gold to worship. Instead of trusting God’s plan for them, they created an idol. And it didn’t end well.

Stop the hustle

I recently read a thoughtful piece in Christianity Today by Katelyn Beaty. In it, she reviews Rachel Hollis’ new bestseller, “Girl, Stop Apologizing,” what Beaty refers to as an “ode to hustle.” I haven’t read it, so I can’t comment on the book. However, something Beaty wrote stood out to me: “Hustle is an idol if it leads you to cut ethical corners in order to stand out in a competitive world.”

Beaty gave me a word for what I had been feeling. Idol. Yes, hustle is an idol if it draws you into practices that take God off the throne of your life. And, in my case, hustle is an idol if it replaces dependence on the Father with self‐sufficiency.

I think it’s important to note that there’s nothing wrong with a strong work ethic. In fact, some people may need to “hustle” a bit more to fulfill 1 Corinthians 10:31, which says to do everything to the glory of God. But for me, using hard work to gain control over my life is an idol. It’s also an ungodly burden — a way I’m seeking to prove my worth. As I fight the urge to hustle, I keep returning to Matthew 11:28‐30:

“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.”

This is the opposite of hustle. Pushing myself to maximum efficiency and achievement only brings weariness and burnout. Jesus invites me out of that miserable place. He offers me rest for my soul. Instead of taking the reins, I can trust my pursuits to the One who knows me and offers me something better than a formula. When I allow Him to do the work, I find true satisfaction and rest — no hustle necessary.

Copyright 2019 Suzanne Hadley Gosselin. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Suzanne Gosselin
Suzanne Hadley Gosselin

Suzanne Hadley Gosselin is a freelance writer and editor. She graduated from Multnomah University with a degree in journalism and biblical theology. She lives in California with her husband, Kevin, who is a family pastor, and her four young children: Josiah, Sadie, Amelia and Jackson. When she’s not hanging out with her kids, Suzanne loves a good cup of coffee, conversation with friends, musical theater and a trip to the beautiful California coast.

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