Simplicity and Downward Mobility

“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”
–Jesus the Christ (Matthew 16:26, ESV)

Downward mobility. It’s a topic that’s just about as popular as homework, doing the dishes, and flossing. The lackluster attention given to downward mobility is likely due to the popularity of its much bigger, fancier brother: upward mobility. Upward mobility is highly prized in our world today (and it has been for a very long time). People seek—perhaps even crave—for upward mobility that entices with money, fast cars, and luxury and with promises of both happiness and fulfillment in this lifetime. It’s a very pervasive idea. But do we really need to succumb to the idea of upward mobility? What if we decided instead to embrace its smaller, simpler brother, downward mobility?

It’s not such a far-fetched idea for Christians to embrace downward mobility. Jesus, our Master and Lord, embraced downward mobility when He stepped down from His throne in heaven to serve people and to give Himself up as a sacrifice. Jesus’ tenacity for downward mobility is beautifully captured in the episode of Him washing the feet of His very own disciples. Taking a towel and some water, Jesus went from foot to foot washing and rinsing each one. This is what Jesus said to His disciples after He toweled up that last stinky foot: “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (John 13:12-15, ESV). Now that’s embracing downward mobility.

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Here’s what I think embracing downward mobility is about:

It’s more about serving and less about being served.
It’s more about giving and less about gaining.
It’s more about God’s kingdom and less about our kingdom.
It’s more about you and less about me.
It’s more about the eternal and less about the temporal.

Shouldn’t we, believers in Jesus, follow the example of our Master and Lord? Must we really be like the rest of the world focusing our limited time and energy chasing after upward mobility? Or can we embrace downward mobility so that we might fully participate in advancing God’s kingdom?

As I mentioned earlier, downward mobility is not a popular topic. People would rather move up than move down especially as they compare themselves to their earthly neighbors. But as we chase after upward mobility, I can’t help but wonder if we lose something in the process and whether our time and energy could have been better spent for more kingdom purposes. I believe this is something every follower of Jesus must seriously ponder upon and wrestle with.

P.S. Whenever I talk about this idea, I inevitably get asked, “How far should I embrace downward mobility? Is there a limit?” I don’t know the answer to that question. But I do know that our society needs to embrace downward mobility more than it needs to embrace upward mobility. Theorizing and speculating about how far we should go with downward mobility is of little value. It might be more helpful for us to take a few steps into downward mobility and see how far the rabbit-hole goes.