The gospel of self-sufficiency reigns supreme in the U.S. We are culturally enamored with the idea of pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps, working one’s way from rags to riches, and earning well-deserved success.
The term “hustle culture” refers to the increased cultural value placed on working long hours in order to achieve highly. This cultural movement has become both prevalent and pervasive in recent years, even becoming inescapable in our web of interconnectivity.
The American obsession with self-sufficiency, achievement and merit is easily internalized, yet it stands in fundamental opposition to the gospel. By the same token, elevating the values of self-sufficiency and individual achievement over the biblical values of grace and rest leads to behaviors incongruous with the life Christ has called his followers to live.
Often, this attitude materializes in the harsh social judgement of those who have not “made it.”
Consider the sweeping moral judgements imposed on individuals struggling with addiction. Examine the rhetoric used to describe the strikes and protests of undercompensated workers. Call to mind the political discourse surrounding the existence and maintenance of social safety nets.
By maintaining a blissful ignorance of history and apathy towards systemic issues such as (but not limited to) racism, misogyny, ableism and homophobia, privileged Americans can pat themselves on the back for their achievements and look to personal merit as the source of their success.
At the same time, the ideology of merit lays the foundation for the creation of uncompassionate social policy by morally categorizing individuals and groups based on their perceived success or failure in life.
On an interpersonal level, ascribing to the lies of self-sufficiency effectively kills vulnerability. If we increasingly paint dependency as weakness, then we become blind to the true nature of the human condition.
The American emphasis on personal achievement has led to a deep national weariness. Since the collective trauma of the COVID-19 pandemic, news headlines have featured stories of professional burnout in almost every field and warned of a “Great Resignation” sweeping the country.
According to the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, the average working American worked 1,791 hours in 2021. This number is strikingly high when compared to other developed nations: workers in the United Kingdom worked an average of 1,497 hours in 2021, while German workers spent 1,349 hours at work on average.
In the United States, there is no maximum length of the work week. Neither is there mandated paid leave for workers.
The exalted lifestyle of endless hustle, high achievement and fierce independence has bled into the Christian faith as well. It surfaces in the ever-alluring message of legalism, promising that we can do and be better through our individual strife. Having been fed a lie, we seek the fruit of our own efforts, rather than the fruit of the Spirit of God.
By focusing on our achievements and efforts, doomed to fail, we sever ourselves from grace, a gift defined by its inability to be earned.
The gospel frees us from the endless cycle of earning. In achievement’s stead, Jesus offers his followers a light burden and an easy yoke. Self-sufficiency pales before God’s boundless grace for the sinner. Hustle is revealed as vanity and replaced by the promise of rest for all souls.
Communal wisdom dictates that both physiologically and psychologically, either we can choose to rest or our bodies and minds will choose rest for us. Most often, this occurs in the form of illness, breakdown or sheer exhaustion. I would argue that this is true of our souls as well.
Reflection reveals that we have a choice. We can continue pushing ourselves to brink of collapse, running on what one writer for The New York Times described as “an endless, frantic hamster wheel for survival.”
We could also allow the truth of the gospel to radically transform our lives. By walking in grace, rest and dependency, we could live as a people transformed by God, rather than a people conformed to the lifeless patterns of this world.