When Fun Becomes an Idol

By Daniel Darling

I’ll never forget a conversation I had with my father one day as we were working on a construction site. Dad owned his own plumbing business and had the bright idea of dragging me along to learn what it was like to get my hands dirty and to work.

I remember this day vividly. It was during Christmas break. It was bitterly cold outside and we were actually up early enough for it to be dark outside. These concepts—hard work, getting up early—seemed like cruel unusual punishment.

There I stood, layered in clothes in an attempt to block the bitter Chicago winter from freezing me to death, dreaming of being somewhere else, anywhere but in the place that required self-sacrifice.

On this day I asked Dad a single question. I said, “Dad, why do you do this, work this hard every day? It’s not very fun.” I thought maybe this would trigger some deep reservoir of sympathy from my father on behalf of his poor, downtrodden boy.

But my wise father said this. “Son, you’re right. On many days this isn’t always fun. But on Fridays it is.”

Friday was payday. Another time I asked him, “Dad, do you ever hate plumbing?” He said, “No, I love it, this is how God has gifted me. But on those days I do hate it, I remember something, ‘I don’t hate to eat.’”

Now I know Dad was working hard because he genuinely loved what he did. And he was (is) very, very good at it. But his simple answers were Dad’s way of burnishing in his young boy a powerful concept I often see missing in my generation. Life is not all about fun. A man’s job is to work hard, support his family, and serve others. This is not always fun.

Thankfully, I don’t have to spend my winters in the cold. Dad’s handy skills seemed to have skipped a generation. Instead I sit behind a desk, type on a computer and visit people in my job as a pastor. But Dad’s lessons have stuck with me.

On most days my job is fulfilling and brings great joy. But like all callings, some days are not fun. Days spent walking hospital corridors. Days spent doing mundane paperwork and tasks that give me no pleasure. Still, the work must be done.

I sense in my generation of men a certain love affair with entertainment, the all-out pursuit of fun. It’s crippling families, weakening churches, and causing community breakdown.

Paul told young Timothy that part of his calling was to “endure hardness as a good soldier.” Nothing in 1st and 2nd Timothy about “fun.” Not to say Christians must always be dour and can’t enjoy the wonder of all that God has for us. Not to say we shouldn’t set aside time to just do nothing. Even Jesus rested.

But to make fun our goal? This is destructive. It’s immature. It’s abdicating responsibility.

If I could give one word of advice to young people, I would say this. Live life to the fullest, but don’t make pleasure your idol. Fun will only get you so far. Hard work, dependence on God, and growing up will take you much farther. And at your funeral, you’ll actually give your loved ones some material to work with, besides “highest score on Halo.”

If you’re upset that your parents aren’t providing you with enough entertainment, maybe you should give them a huge hug and thank them for not enabling your destruction. If you’re church seems boring and “unhip” maybe you should walk the aisle and bear-hug your pastor, thanking him for helping you become holy rather than “happy.” And if your coach makes you run, pushes you to be disciplined, and doesn’t pamper you, thank him for bringing out the best in you.

Because life is more than simply having fun. It’s about using your God-given gifts to maximize your impact on the people you are called to serve.