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Practicing downward mobility in an upwardly mobile world

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Scarlett Rose Ford - published on 01/11/24

The world tells us to be constantly climbing the social pyramid or corporate ladder, but what does the life of Jesus tell us?
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Before meeting my college boyfriend’s parents, I made sure I did everything right: I bought his mom’s favorite flowers, I planned out what I was going to wear and what I was going to say. I even asked him what they already knew about my life so I didn’t repeat all the same information.

“What did you tell your parents about me?” I asked excitedly on the drive.

“I told them that you want to go into ministry,” he laughed. “They asked, ‘Is that it?’ Then gave me a talk on the importance of financial stability.”

I tried to smile to cover up my disappointment, but my heart was shattered. Since I discovered my vocation at age 16, people have always frowned upon it. No matter how many times I say, “Where God guides, He provides,” this resistance from outsiders persists as the world says this is not enough: There is no “working your way up” in this vocation.

When I told my parents of this incident, they quickly reassured me that my worth is not determined by how high I can climb the corporate ladder. My mom shared a quote from the late Catholic writer and Ivy League professor Henri Nouwen, “Power always lusts after greater power precisely because it is an illusion.”

A life of upward mobility is what Satan tempted Jesus with in the desert. It is what Jesus rejected because, simply, this is not part of the Christian life. It is desirable to have earthly goals, but it is sinful to idolize them: Our biggest goal should be getting to Heaven, nothing else.

This way of life is counter-cultural, as was the life of Jesus. He was not focused on the upward mobility of the world, but rather on “downward mobility,” a term Nouwen coined several years before leaving behind his life as a renowned writer, speaker, and professor to practice this humility as the pastor of a L’Arche community for adults with intellectual disabilities. There, among people who knew nothing of his fame, he found true fulfillment in his vocation.

After spending years trying to downplay my vocation and climb the social pyramid, I realized I was entirely dissatisfied with what society deems “success.” Only once I rejected worldly ideas of power and upward mobility did I find true joy in my vocation. Regardless of what outside influences may say, fulfillment comes from God alone: This is the path to humility, to happiness, and to eternal life. 


This is part of the series called “The Human Being Fully Alive” found here.

EconomySpiritual LifeThe Human Being Fully Alive
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