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Human flourishing and work


WORLD Radio - Human flourishing and work

Are parents failing to prepare kids to flourish in the adult world? Is the world simply not built for human flourishing? Or is the truth somewhere in between? Kelsey and Jonathan explore the pressing themes of a viral video.

KELSEY REED: Hello, welcome to Concurrently: The News Coach Podcast from WORLD Radio and God’s WORLD News. Our mission is to come alongside you, learning and laboring with you as you disciple kids and teens through culture and current events. My name is Kelsey Reed. And I’m here with Jonathan Boes.


KELSEY: Together, we want to model conversation and apply tools that you can use at home or in the classroom as you have those important conversations with your kids and teens. Do you have a question that we might be able to tackle? Do you have an observation of culture that you would like to make and have us maybe unpack with you? Send those things in to newscoach@wng.org. We love to talk about the things that are important in your context. And we also love to hear your voices. Just as those hosts of The World and Everything in It have mentioned, it’s very easy to record a voice memo on your smartphone. Send that in to us. It’s a delightful way for you to be brought into the conversation that we’re having.

JONATHAN: Yes, we love to hear your voices. So today, we don’t have a question from a listener, but our discussion is being prompted by a viral video. And you know, we’re not a viral video podcast, but this video kind of became a news subject just because of the conversation that arose around it.

So this girl named Brielle Asero posted a video on TikTok, where she was talking about her nine-to-five job, her first nine-to-five job out of college, and the commute she faces and what that means for her life. We actually—we’re not going to share it or play it here because there is some language that we don’t want to share on this podcast. But we did write it out, so we can read some of the highlights here, as we begin our observation work and then look at some of the ways people responded to this. But first: what she said, the problems she’s seen in her life, and what she attributes them to.

KELSEY: So I’m going to read the transcript that we’ve cleaned up a little bit. I’m not going to do this in a dramatized version. So just be aware.

JONATHAN: For the sake of realism, you should have your phone out, doing a video.

KELSEY: That’s right. So Brielle says:

I know I’m probably being so dramatic and annoying. But this is my first job, my first nine-to-five job after college, and I’m in person, and I’m commuting in the city. And it takes me forever to get there. There’s no way I’m going to be able to afford living in the city right now. So that’s off the table. If I was able to walk to work, it’d be fine. But I’m not. So it literally takes me—I get on the train at 7:30 and I don’t get home till like 6:15 earliest. And then I don’t have time to do anything. I want to shower, eat my dinner, and go to sleep. I don’t have time or energy to cook my dinner either. I don’t have energy to work out. That’s out the window. I’m so upset. Nothing to do with my job at all. But just like, the nine to five schedule in general is crazy. If it was remote, you’d get off at five and you’re home, and everything’s fine. But I’m not home. It takes me long to get home. I literally get off at pitch black. I don’t have energy. How do you have friends? How do you have time to meet a guy? How do you have time for dating? I don’t have time for anything. I’m so stressed out. Am I so dramatic?

JONATHAN: And so that was her video. And she was bringing out all these interconnected problems, basically dealing with her first nine-to-five job out of college, and specifically her inability to live near work and what the commute means for all these different aspects of her life.

Now, the reason it became sort of newsworthy is because of all these different responses. So we saw, of course, as you would expect, a lot of snarky and negative responses. I’ll be honest—for myself, when I first watched it, my initial responses was like, man, wait till you have kids. Like, not having time—getting home at 6:15 and having no responsibilities after that sounds kind of like a luxury. But, you know, you saw some responses, like Matt Walsh being Matt Walsh: “If you don’t want to work from nine to five, there are other options.” And he kind of lays out three options, which are like basically get married, become an entrepreneur, or move into the woods and homestead. And he said, “Make your choice or shut up.” So, not a lot of kindness in those words.

And another kind of snarky response from a Twitter user called—or X user now, I can’t get used to that—“EndtheMisery” is their handle, just: “Omg, poor baby has her first job. Like . . . she has to commute? Like . . . she has to cook dinner??”

But then there were other responses. So you know, you’d expect a lot of that snarky “it’s real life, get used to it.” But these other responses—one from a guy named Hans Fiene. I’m going choose that’s how to pronounce his name. I’m not sure. He says, “She’s crying the tears of Ecclesiastes, not the tears of sloth. If we want to build up the next generation, let’s not mock those struggling with loneliness by accusing them of laziness.” Another user who goes by the name Derek Guy says, “It’s actually very reasonable to not want to commute for three hours per day and we should figure out a way to organize cities so that fewer people have to do that.” And the last response I wanted to highlight was from another user who goes by the name Kruptos: “This video is funny, watching her get mugged by reality. But, and hear me out, she is correct. Our cities and towns are not built around human flourishing. They’re built around the efficient concentration of businesses. The cost for this is passed onto average people.”

And so that’s why we’re talking about a viral video today—because it connects with this bigger theme. That last response there used the term “human flourishing.” And so we see this question about human flourishing. We’ll get into that definition in a minute. But this video, the kerfuffle around it, to me, ties into so many other news stories we’re seeing about the failure to launch, so to speak, of the younger generation, or the ways jobs are being restructured, working at home or working—some places actually messing with, should we have a five-day work week? Should we have a nine-to-five? Even schools changing the schedule so that kids can get more sleep at night. There’s kind of this whole wealth of stories, and to me, they all come down to this fundamental question that the viral video here and its responses so succinctly capture, and that’s, “Are we failing to prepare the younger generation to flourish in adult life, to the point that a Gen Z grad breaks down because she has to work a nine-to-five job? Or is there something wrong with the way we’ve structured our modern work life, or our modern cities and towns, that makes adult life unconducive to human flourishing? Or is it a bit of both?”

KELSEY: So we’re going to pull out a bunch of tools, I think we have referred before on this podcast to that idea of structure, support, and challenge. So I’m going to say, right out the gate, I would be inclined to answer that it is both. And I hope that you’ll follow with us as we stack up our observations and analysis, pulling out that SOAR tool to think about a careful response that, again, my argument would be—how are we equipping the generation with those things of structure, and even infrastructure, and those things of support, which are heavily those discipleship—relational things of life—to face those challenges that we see, just as life “mugs” this young woman. That was that was really excellent Twitter—again, X. What do we say? Do we “tweet” out anymore?

JONATHAN: Well, they call them “posts” now.

KELSEY: So we’re not tweeting out, we’re posting on X. Okay.

JONATHAN: I can’t make the mental jump.

KELSEY: It’s going to take some cultural shift in our thinking. So, yes, just some really excellent things that you brought out in the comments. And as we begin to apply our tools for the sake of this conversation, I want to just say, from the outset: If you would like to draw out this conversation with your teens, may I recommend that you look at the transcript for this episode, and read with them this young woman’s response to life? Ask them questions about—What do you resonate with? What do you see? What do you notice in what she has said? What do you see, what do you notice in the comments?—while we start leading out some of those observations ourselves.

One of the things I noticed in the comments that you drew out to her specific, just, yeah, frustrations—the comments that are most clear, with even good grammar and vocabulary, are really those that seem to also be the most gracious. So as I looked through the comments—and there are thousands this point, I mean, this is a viral video. If you were to delve into some of those comments, it’s interesting to see those who are taking care to try to be a part of those encouraging voices, and those that we might call generative voices, those who are seeking to engage and create a culture that fosters human flourishing. So those are some of the things that I’m observing, even in the comments. So just making those observations. And we’re going to pull out some other tools. We’ve talked about the Big Five. Let’s start with just some definition of our terms.

JONATHAN: So kind of our guiding term here, and what drew me to this whole subject, is the term “human flourishing.” And that’s a broad term, and I think to some people, if you’re not familiar with it, it might sound kind of clinical. Because whenever you refer to people as “humans,” it can sound kind of clinical. But this is, I think, an important term to unpack. You see it a lot in Christian circles, but even outside of Christian circles. You can add color to this definition, as well, Kelsey. But I would define human flourishing broadly as this whole person thriving of people, that encompasses spiritual health, emotional health, physical health of both individuals and people living together in community—just kind of an overarching vision of what is good for humans living in the here and now.

KELSEY: I have to just say, first off, amen. You’re speaking educational speak, when you talk about “whole person,” that we’re not talking about just, what does it mean for us to do what we’re supposed to do? It’s not just this utilitarian thought about, we’re, you know, human bodies that need to get plugged as cogs into a work grind. We’re not just gears in a process of some pragmatic machine. We aren’t machines. We are multi-dimensioned. And so what it means for us to flourish means looking at those dimensions carefully, and allowing them to—I don’t know, I just think of this expansion. Anytime that we think of multiple dimensions, it feels like an exponential idea, to think about expanding on the scene and being able to grow in all of those ways, all at the same time. And I love that you placed it within community too, because that adds that dimension that is relational. We are relational at our core. And so for us to be able to thrive, we need to also thrive in relationship and cause other human beings to thrive. And that requires us to pour in relationally.

So we’ve managed to give a definition that is without referring to scripture so far, but I really want to argue that is a biblical understanding of human flourishing. And we can see that rooted in the very beginning of our Redemptive Narrative, our biblical narrative that begins with the Lord’s creation in this magnificent system, this world in which we live, and placing human beings into it and saying, “Flourish, go fill the Earth, subdue it, flourish, multiply.”

JONATHAN: Andy Crouch has this great short video where he points to Jesus as the ultimate example of human flourishing. And you absolutely see that Jesus addressed the spiritual needs of people with Himself. He also healed the sick. He gave food to the hungry. You know, He came in flesh. It was a whole-person, tactile, in-community approach to flourishing.

I think, coming from an evangelical place as I do, there can be a tendency to view the non-spiritual—or what we think of as “non-spiritual”—aspects of flourishing as kind of neutral. But this is one of those rare times where I actually remember the exact moment I first heard the term “human flourishing” and it first clicked for me, which is when I was in college. I may have even been running tech for this event. But it was a coffee house speaker. I wish I could remember his name. I was trying to look it up before we recorded. I cannot find this recorded online, but if I do, I’ll post it in our show notes, if I find it in time. But he was speaking about the way cities are laid out, about basically urban planning, and about the concept of human flourishing. And he showed examples of—I believe it was either some cities in Italy or France—and then some cities in America. And in the first examples, in Europe, there were these streets where—you know, there’s a reasonable sized two-lane street for cars, but then there’s a hedge separating the street from the sidewalk. And then there’s a huge wide sidewalk where a bunch of people can walk and sit and read and eat on tables. And the hedge is kind of blocking the sound and visibility of the cars driving past. And then, right next to it, the pictures from these American cities, where you have these huge multi-lane roads for cars and these tiny sidewalks where you have to squeeze right next to the vehicles. And he was pointing out how those first city examples are designed for human flourishing. People can experience the beauty of nature, because there’s actually like trees and hedges on these walkways. They can stop and talk to each other without having to speak over the noise of cars. And even the health aspect of, you know, you’re not right there breathing in the exhaust of all these vehicles going by. And that’s when it just clicked for me, that something that seemed as neutral to me as urban planning was actually directly affecting not only the physical health, but the experience of beauty, the ability to live in community, all these things that were clearly not neutral. They were all being affected by something as simple as the way a street was laid out. And so that unlocked for me this idea that human flourishing can be improved or harmed by something as simple as the layout of a city, the way we structure a workday, the way we commute to work. That’s where that definition really met reality for me.

KELSEY: So it lodged in your mind—I really appreciate this thinking that adds to what we’ve said about human as individual, multi-dimensional, but we’re kind of talking about the dimensions of the human being as an individual when we say their emotions, their body, their soul, their mind—but then we expanded it into relationship. And then we expanded further into environment. And it reminds me of our discussion in the post that I—that article, I guess, is what we would call it—that I wrote for our blog, that talks about creation, God, man, even that circle back of man onto himself, that every single part of our experience contributes to how we glorify God, contributes to our flourishing. And so it’s not merely just an individual sitting there in space, all alone. We have a relationship with the Lord. We have a relationship with one another. We have a relationship with our surroundings. So each of these things are dimensions that contribute to this overall idea, as we’re defining it, of human flourishing.

So I couldn’t help but think of this old world, that so many of the cities were not designed for cars in the first place. So you have like old cobblestone streets that have become walking streets. These are things that, because of being a new world, we have started designing and making mistakes in our design, because we were so utilitarian about cars, about distance, things that are not the same characteristics of place. But we’ve fallen into some patterns of design that need reworking. We don’t have to, just by nature of the fact that we’re a big country with cars, and a lot of modern technology and modern buildings—we don’t have to fall into—we are not imprisoned by our circumstances. We can still engage with intention. But this kind of starts arcing into a response. But I just wanted to make some observations that are contextualized in culture and to recognize—we can learn from history. We can learn from other cultural contexts. We can be intentional.

JONATHAN: I want to quickly take our definition of flourishing, human flourishing, and look back at the things she said in that video, and kind of see where, even if she wasn’t intending it, these sort of human flourishing ideas come out. And I think that’s why some of those commenters were so apt to bring out that term. She points to these two initial issues, of the nine-to-five schedule—the long commute that adds hours to her workday—and the fact that she cannot afford to live in the city, which I’m sure a lot of young people resonate with. But then notice how those very practical problems—the inability to live in the city, the need to commute—the sub-problems that sprout from those. She says, “I don’t have the time or energy to cook my dinner. I don’t have the energy to work out.” So there’s, from something as simple as the need to commute, there’s a health impact. Are we cooking healthy food? Are we having the time to work out? Exercise? And then she had mentioned, how do you have friends? How do you have time to meet a guy? How do you have time for dating? So there’s even an impact on relational health and community health. She’s faced with this commute, which is rooted in the inability to live close to her work, which is the result of economics and city planning and all these different things. And it’s spiraling out directly into an impact on what she’s eating, how she’s exercising, how she’s experiencing community. And so that really is a human flourishing sort of thought, that we are looking at these things that we could be tempted to think of as neutral, but then realizing the way they’re structured is actually impacting us in all these different dimensions.

KELSEY: We’re observing that our definition of it being a whole-person thing is valid. We’re observing that in her experience, and we’re noticing—as we see her making observations on her experience—we’re noticing that it’s not these categories of self that are separable, but each of them has an impact on the other. How my heart is doing affects my energy, whether I am motivated, ready, energized for the next activity of working out or cooking my dinner, you know, shopping for the ingredients that I need. These things seem simple, but they do have a compounding and cyclical effect. There’s a reason why there’s a mental health crisis. What does it look like for us to be able to find those spaces for healthy disciplines, so that our mental health is also just fostered, cultivated, nurtured by those things? There’s a great song by one of my husband’s favorite musicians. This guy is David Wilcox, and he’s from this area. So if you don’t know, David Wilcox, he’s from the area where we hail in Asheville, North Carolina, and he writes a song about the blues, about being down inside yourself, that “You’re just down inside yourself. You need to eat some broccoli, run a mile, take a shower. You’re just down inside yourself.” There’s truth to this, that it can take some simple nourishing of our bodies, in order to be able to have a refreshed perspective. But on the other hand, if all of our time is being eaten up by being this gear in the machine of work—if work isn’t complimentary to human flourishing—then there is a spiraling effect that does occur. This is the reality of what it means to be human.

JONATHAN: And so that’s where we really see this theme of human flourishing. And this whole discussion of young people struggling with entering “real life,” is it that issue of—are we equipping them to flourish? Is the world just not set up for flourishing? So we’ve looked at, what is flourishing? How does it affect everything around us? The other theme we see here is work. And so we want to stop before we go on and define that term. Because this might seem like a very simple idea. But maybe it’s not as simple as we think. So Kelsey, how do we define work?

KELSEY: I really want to bring in the Redemptive Narrative here. And because of the fact that I believe something about work that I believe, I don’t want to do all of the work for us today. I think some of this work actually needs to be put back into the conversation that you have with your children, with your teens, with your students. And let me tell you why. One of the massive observations that I made to this young woman’s commentary was—maybe it was actually in a question form—where were her parents? Where were her mentors, who helped shape her thinking in this area? And I asked that question, not as a way of trying to blame another, but actually as a question that needed to reflect back into my own process as an educator, as a parent, as a mentor of those who are coming along behind me. How am I contributing to their understanding of work, of human flourishing, of relationships? That’s one of the things that we didn’t necessarily touch on in a very diligent way yet, but this question that she has, this ache for a meaningful, significant relationship in her life—all of these things are wrapped up in this topic area. And so putting that work that is ours into play by touching on it a little bit here myself, but also wanting to put it back into the conversation that you have at home or in the classroom. So work, for me, I define it through the Redemptive Narrative, because I want to understand, why does work look the way that it does? Now, in our experience, we would call ourselves, in this period that’s between two chapters of that narrative, we call that the “now and not yet,” between the chapter of Redemption and Restoration. But there are two chapters that came before that, that in order to have a full perspective, we need to run it through those chapters as well.

JONATHAN: And if you’re kind of new to listening to us, and you haven’t heard us talk a lot about the Redemptive Narrative before, we have actually done a whole episode—I think we did two episodes on this. And we’ll link to those in the show notes as well. So if you want to go back and just learn more about the Redemptive Narrative itself, and what we mean by that, we have some resources for that both in our podcast and on the blog. We’ll make those available.

KELSEY: Because sometimes it’s helpful to visualize what we’re talking about, and how those ideas work their ways out in the triad of relationships that we’ve mentioned earlier in the episode. So work—how does work run through these four chapters? Well, in the beginning, at Creation, work was good. The Lord put work into the hands of Adam and Eve right from the gate. The first work that He gave him was to name the animals. That was before Eve was even created, that Adam was naming, and he was developing relationship with these creatures that the Lord had made. So that was a part of his good work.

JONATHAN: And that’s a huge point I want to make sure we don’t breeze past, is that work itself was not a result of the fall. Work existed in Eden, but was totally conducive to human flourishing.

KELSEY  So the question that we would ask, and then I would want to, like I said, not do all the work for us, not do all the discovery for you and your students and your kids. The question that we would ask is: What was human work like before the fall? And what did it have to do with human flourishing? And just another kind of note there, return to Genesis 1:28 to kind of unpack that further.

But the second chapter comes hard on the heels of the first chapter, and that is that chapter of fall, or as I prefer to actually call it, rebellion, because we were pushing back against the design that the Lord had created. It’s interesting. Some of that was the good work of obedience. We didn’t want to obey what the Lord had to say. It was very easy for us to be tempted to do a different type of work than the type that He had put into our hands. And obedience is a part of that, obeying the authority that is good, and whose design is very good. He said it Himself, and He would know. So the question that we ask at the movement from creation and very good into rebellion is—how did work change? Does that mean we just have to grin and bear it? Suck it up buttercup, shut up kind of thing? Does the fact that work changed, and came with now a curse and toil under the Sun, as Ecclesiastes would say, does the fact that it changed mean that we just have to kind of cynically resign ourselves to it? Those are questions that I would ask, and would really encourage being asked at home. But work changed. There’s toil. Now there are thorns in the field. There are conflicts in relationship. What other observations would you want to draw out about what we see in work that’s maybe less archaic and scriptural and in effect—you know, what do we see now in terms of what work looks like?

JONATHAN: As you said, now we’ve had those past two chapters of the creation, the rebellion. We are now, though, in that third chapter of Redemption, where Christ has accomplished the ultimate work for our salvation, and we have our everyday vocational work of whatever our jobs are—both our actual employments, you know, you go to your nine-to-five, or even just the job you’ve been given as a parent, a teacher, a student—and then we have the work of the Great Commission, that Jesus gave us something to do. And now I think we sometimes tend to draw a sharp wedge between those two types of work. I would suggest that that wedge does not really exist.

KELSEY: I agree with you. And I think that we see that through the pattern of scripture, even leading up to that point of the Great Commission, because it’s repeated to Noah, to Abraham, to, you know, every one of those figures of what we would call, in Reformed theology, those “heads of covenant,” where the covenant was renewed with each of these leaders, to go out, to fill the world, to go garden. You know, Noah was famous for his vineyards.

JONATHAN: Maybe too famous.

KELSEY: This is all a part of their work. And that was reestablished in Christ, not only with His great commission, but in His incarnate action. So I love you are pointing to the fact that there’s a rub between the embodied work of the flesh—that work of carpentry, of fishing, of you taking care of the needs of the sick of the poor—that that is an embodied, incarnate work that is not extracted from a spiritual work of telling, “Hey, for your heart to change, for your sin situation to be improved, you need the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” And Jesus was pointing to that through all of His very tangible miracles, that He was there to bring both bodily and spiritual renewal. So the question that I would ask in this chapter, as you do this work at home or in the classroom is: What work did you see Jesus doing? And yes, some of those are the miracles that we talked about. But there are other things that Jesus did, that helped to affirm the flesh, and also show some of that tension of the work that is ours in the now and not yet—works of servanthood, just to kind of hint a little bit further. And He, in doing these things, and in finishing the work on the cross, He made our work less futile, more impactful, if we can use that—that’s not really a true word, but we keep using that these days. But it made our work more effective in the world, because He showed the way to be a true human, the best human. So that tension of the now and the not yet. Then there’s some questions that go with that. You know, what is our work during that now but not yet time? What does it mean in terms of how we lead our families, how we disciple our children to ultimately also be leaders of their families?

JONATHAN: And I think, when we’re doing the work we have been called to, we will see human flourishing. You know, it’s not—I’m not saying there’s always a guaranteed positive result of obedience. That’s prosperity gospel type of thinking. But there is, I think, a truth that where we are spreading the Kingdom, we will see the fruit of the Spirit, and not just in—I really don’t think just in spiritual ways, of what we think of as spiritual ways, but even in physical ways, and relational ways, and communal ways. And I think the inverse of that is, if in the process of spreading the gospel, if we are leaving behind deserts instead of gardens, that should give us pause.

KELSEY: I think a great book to mention here, if some of your older teens are at that place—maybe you’re trying to craft a homeschool class for them—I just cannot commend enough this book by one of my professors, Michael Williams, who wrote Far as the Curse Is Found. And he dives into so much about, what was the intention of the Lord’s calling of Israel? So many things that are much more heavy theological ideas, but one of the major things that I remember from this book, that—I want to encourage the exploration of this—is that our work is meant to be about going, doing our work in the world, whatever that work might be, because that is a reflection of who the Lord is. It is something that brings Him glory, and it’s something that builds bridges, beautiful bridges towards others. We’re sharing the news of a Savior who is restoring us and has done the work to restore us to ultimate relationship with that Father.

So another book I want to highly recommend in this moment, as well, is Nancy Pearcy’s Total Truth. And part of the reason why is that she gives us more continued categories for looking at work across the ages, and how our advances in technology, they have disrupted the family. They’ve disrupted the beauty of work, and made work uttermost instead of family and relationship uttermost. So I want to commend her book to you as well, and hope that it helps to shape your thinking, and even your doing, in response to our current technological revolution.

JONATHAN: So to circle it back all the way to our initial question, now rephrasing it sort of as a response. Is it about equipping our kids to flourish in a world that is broken? Or is it about changing the world so that flourishing is possible? And I think the answer is “yes.” We’ve looked at the need for support in our kids to prepare them to be people who can flourish. And we’re also seeing that part of our work in this world, even part of our gospel work, can be to push back the curse, and make the world that our children will inhabit more conducive to their flourishing as both individuals and parts of a community.

KELSEY: And that leads to a final question that’s related to that final chapter as well. That question of how is our work a foretaste of the New Heavens and the New Earth? And how does our work even help to bring everything under His reign, pushing back the curse? How is it giving that chance of appetizing those, that there is a hopeful, other option besides the drudgery or the cynicism or the just clockwork of the nine-to -five? There is an opportunity to be creative, to be restorative, and to point to things to come.

JONATHAN: As we’re thinking about this Redemptive Narrative, and all these different chapters, and we’re looking ahead to that final chapter of restoration, let’s look at Revelation 21. This is starting in verse five:

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.”

KELSEY: Parent, teacher, mentor of kids and teens, we have a lot of work to do. But it’s good work. And He has equipped us for that work. 



Show Notes

Are parents failing to prepare kids to flourish in the adult world? Is the world simply not built for human flourishing? Or is the truth somewhere in between? Kelsey and Jonathan explore the pressing themes of a viral video.

Check out The Concurrently Companion for this week’s downloadable episode guide including discussion questions and scripture for further study. Sign up for the News Coach Newsletter at gwnews.com/newsletters.

We would love to hear from you. You can send us a message at newscoach@wng.org. What current events or cultural issues are you wrestling through with your kids and teens? Let us know. We want to work through it with you.

See more from the News Coach, including episode transcripts.

Further Resources:

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