I watch Working!!! to laugh, to get away from the world. But serious thought has a way of creeping into my activities despite my best efforts, and so here we are.
Yamada Aoi is one of the most exasperating characters in Working!!!. She came to Wagnaria, the family restaurant, as a runaway teen. She won’t tell her real name or go back to her family. The owner, Otoo-san, is a bit of a pushover, so they let her live in the attic and hire her as a trainee. Her work ethic is underdeveloped, to put it lightly, and when she does work, she breaks dishes at an alarming rate. This irritates a couple of her coworkers, but she’s managed to wriggle into their affections anyway.
She has another quirk, though: she wants a family. She insists that Otoo-san be her father. And she appoints Souma, the crafty cook, as her big brother. They don’t have a choice in the matter.
Here’s the thing: Yamada already has a family. While she’s begging Souma to play the big brother in her family fantasy, her real big brother, “Yamada Kirio,” is on the streets, passionately searching for her.
This plot thread reminds me of what real people do everyday. We have a (literally) perfectly good God. And all too often, we run away from him and prop up other people and ideas in his place. For many people, this is a lifelong denial of the One who deserves our greatest love and faithfulness. For Christians, it’s a more temporary denial. Either way, it’s a multi-level problem.
First, there’s the denial, the running away from God. We do this for many reasons, including unwillingness to be completely subservient to God, lack of trust in his faithfulness or love, and the prideful belief that we can free ourselves from the guilt and addictiveness of sin. We want love, but not God’s righteously jealous love. We want our relational and spiritual needs filled, but only if we still have some control over how they’re filled. We want purpose, until we find out that our purpose revolves around God, and our whims have very little to do with it. We want relationship, but not responsibility. So we run away from the One whom we are made to glorify and enjoy, the only One who can fulfill our deepest needs.
But our needs are still there. To fill them, we try to replace God with our own “gods.” We need a Judge and a Lawmaker, so we put faith in government institutions and politicians. We need love, acceptance, and a sense of belonging, and we expect this to be satisfied by boyfriends, spouses, and parents (or, in Yamada’s case, co-workers).
This isn’t fair to anyone involved. Human institutions and relationships can be amazing. But they’re even more amazing when put in perspective with our Creator and Redeemer. I love my imperfect parents more fully because I know that everything good about them stems from God. I don’t expect them to be anything but what they are, so I don’t feel betrayed when they make mistakes. Similarly, I better appreciate other middle-aged adults because I don’t try to make them into people they aren’t. My favorite professors are sources of wisdom and Christian love, but they aren’t my parents or grandparents, and they certainly aren’t God. If I looked for anything besides professor-student status with them, things could get real awkward and disappointing.
Yamada doesn’t want to accept these natural boundaries. Since she left her real family, she tries to construct a new, ideal one with her co-workers. She envisions a love and acceptance that includes them pampering her. She doesn’t realize that by doing that, she’s not able to fully enjoy their real relationship—let alone appreciate the brother she left behind.
Yes, her friends at work really are important. They just have a different role in her life. They can’t solve the problems she ran away from, let alone replace the people. I hope she faces these facts by the show’s finale.
Meanwhile, here are facts I wish more real people would face:
Familial, romantic, and friendly relationships are all gifts from God. He made us relational beings—partially, I believe, to show his own relational nature. But our primary relationship is with him. Nothing can replace that, and the healthiest relationships are enriched by our relationship with God. When we deny the breadth of what he offers—or even his very existence—and search for perfect love, salvation, etc. somewhere else (as kids, that’s often from our parents—or perhaps older siblings, though Lil Sis always knew I was faulty—and as we grow older, we often search for it in romance, friendships, or even in ourselves), we will either end up terribly disappointed, or spend our entire lives under a delusion that keeps us from rich relationships that complement each other and point back to God.
And what if you’ve been running away from God for a long time? I’ve got good news: time has nothing to do with it. God will patiently, passionately pursue you, and unlike Yamada’s brother, he knows exactly where you are. No one can hide you from him. He reaches out to you through Creation, through his Word, and through other people. Don’t get me wrong; if you’ve hardened your heart against God, he won’t force you into relationship with him. If you prefer the temporary relief the world offers over eternity with him in paradise, he’ll eventually leave you to your folly. But in the meantime, he’s here, available, pursuing you, even if you haven’t noticed (or you’ve refused to notice). He still cares. You just need to stop running away.