Living Vicariously

The inspiration for this post comes from a Facebook comment by one of my former students. After reading my Big Government article from last week, she commented that she lives vicariously. I thought that was rather humorous, probably coming, as it did, from her current experience as a mother of young children. That responsibility can dominate one’s life.

The word “vicarious” may need some explanation. I’m used to hearing it because theologically it describes what Christ has done for us on the cross. It’s often called a vicarious atonement. The word means that something is performed or suffered by one person as a substitute for someone else. It also means to experience something “through imaginative or sympathetic participation in the experience of another.” So I guess she was saying that my writing that piece allowed her to be a participant in something she didn’t have the time to do herself.

I understand. I live vicariously as well. In what way? Well, I have 360+ Facebook “friends.” Of that number, about 2/3 are former or current students. I’m now beginning my 22nd year of teaching at the college level, so I have a lot of students who have taken my classes. I rejoice to learn what they are now doing. As they share on Facebook, I can, in a sense, imaginatively or sympathetically participate in their lives.

I’m particularly interested in how they are using what they’ve learned. Now, that doesn’t mean they have to be on a path to the presidency or some other high political office. God calls each of us to different vocations. I find joy in former students writing about a newborn child in the family. I feel with them when there is a difficulty to be overcome or when they suffer a tragedy. I experience great satisfaction when what they write sounds vaguely familiar—like what they learned in one of my courses.

To some extent, we all live vicariously. That’s okay. It’s the way God made us. I believe that’s one reason why Facebook has become so popular—we want those connections, we want to interact and experience what others experience. The apostle Paul told the Roman church,

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.

I call that living vicariously.