Annalyn’s Corner: Working!! and Replacement Relationships

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.

Working'!!_08
Souma and Yamada enjoy a day in the mall in the second season’s eighth episode.

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.

Working'!!_08c
Souma pushes Yamada Aoi in the opposite direction from her brother. Despite his protests, Souma, too, seems to find something appealing in a sibling-like relationship, and he’s too selfish to risk it by letting the Yamadas find each other (Working’!! ep 8).

 

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.

 

5 thoughts on “Annalyn’s Corner: Working!! and Replacement Relationships

  1. >First, there’s the denial, the running away from God.

    One might also say that pushing this one God up as though He must be real and as we imagine Him (to go with the bizarrely engendered God I’ve heard about my whole life), is a form of denial and is also running away… from reality. It’s important to keep that perspective too, and understand that this “running away” you speak of is part of our own struggle to understand ourselves, and where we fit into the spiritual world. The moment you decide that there is one literal God and He is all we should need, you are stunting your own growth. There be dragons there, big closed-minded dragons that have caused many of the world’s ills, whether you lie on one side of the “there is a God” fence or the other. Cute insights born from an anime will not change that.

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    1. El Goopo, thank you for reading my post. I appreciate the time you’ve taken to respond, though I’ve been unable to reply to your comment until now. I’m sorry you believe that believing in God is “running away” from reality. You may find it interesting to realize that, from my perspective, you are the one running away from reality, and your growth is stunted because of it. I should clarify a few things: First, if I and other Christians (or Jews or Muslims, who also believe in one God) are the ones who have decided that there is “one literal God,” then our faith is in a fantasy, and our religion is a constraint. If, however, God is true and eternal, and has displayed his glory to humanity since the days of Adam, then we only decided one thing: to believe in him, rather than reject him. Second, God has created us with lesser needs: needs for food, for community, sleep, education (formal and informal, whatever it takes to stimulate our minds). These needs do not have the same eternal significance as our need to glorify God and be restored to right relationship with him. But they are still valid needs. Christians who focus only on the “spiritual” side of their existence are, indeed, stunting their own growth. I’m tempted to go on, but I know I’m already in danger of babbling.

      All that aside, again, thank you for taking the time to read this, even if it was only so you could dismiss it as “cute.” I hope you reconsider your position someday.

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  2. We’ve removed human emotion from our relationships, and we’ve replaced it colorful bubbles. Somehow, we’ve learned to get offended by text on a screen, accusing others of being “angry” or “sad” when, in fact, we have no idea what they are feeling.

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