TV

Psalm 37 and Monsters at Work

Joylanda Jamison

We all have an idea of a dream job, one that motivates us to wake up each morning. But what happens when the dream we aspire to achieve isn't realized and our hopes fade? The Disney Plus series Monsters at Work, which picks up where Monsters, Inc. ended, considers this very dilemma. Along the way, it also serves as a reminder of Psalm 37's call to trust in God's providence.

The animated series brings back familiar characters—Mike (voiced by Billy Crystal) and Sulley (John Goodman) are now in charge of Monsters, Inc.—but the focus is on new Monsters employee Tyler Tuskmon (Ben Feldman). The series begins with Tyler receiving his acceptance letter to join the company; he soon finds out, however, that his dream career of being a Scarer no longer exists. Monsters, Inc. no longer wants to rely on scream energy, but is instead looking for Jokesters who know how to make children laugh. Understandably, Tyler is crushed. As a tall, scaly monster with long horns, he envisions himself in the spotlight on the Scare Floor, only to be placed in obscurity on the Monsters Incorporated Facilities Team (MIFT). MIFT supervisor Fritz (Henry Winkler), a furry, one-eyed monster with blue polka dots, takes a lot of pride in his team’s task of performing mechanical repairs throughout the factory. Smitten by their work, Fritz and his team of peculiar monsters seem oblivious to Tyler’s desire to leave.

Psalm 37:4 is often quoted as a verse of encouragement for those who are waiting for God’s promises: “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” But what happens when we trust the Lord and he doesn’t seem to hold up his end of the deal? We put in extra hours only to be skipped over for the promotion. We accept a new position only for that position to be dissolved a year later. Or in Tyler’s case, his family works to send him to college to learn a skill that becomes irrelevant the moment he graduates. And even his backup plan—to become a Jokester—seems out of reach.

Tyler’s desire to become a Jokester only intensifies after he endures a wacky, MIFT initiation ceremony in the second episode. He finds himself in a dimly lit break room with the other MIFTers adorning cardboard costumes and using pipes and other tools as musical instruments. They then chant “wrench the nut” emphatically as Fritz gives Tyler the honorary task of loosening a rusty lug nut. Throughout the ceremony, Tyler tries to explain that he is only a temporary MIFTer, even while they coerce him through a flame-filled door of “eternal membership.” (They use fake, inflatable flames since the last new hire caught on fire.) Tyler is so focused on leaving MIFT he almost misses the blessing of community that they try to offer him. Returning to Psalm 37, we are instructed to “hope in the Lord,” so that we will “inherit the land.” This means acknowledging his hand of providence along the way—even when the provision comes in a different manner than expected.

Later in Monsters at Work, Tyler learns that one of his coworkers, Banana Bread, has been promoted from MIFTer to Jokester. Again, Psalm 37 could provide Tyler solace, as it tells us “do not fret when people succeed in their ways.” Tyler could have easily become angry or bitter towards his banana-shaped coworker for getting offered the position he was striving to receive. (How many times have we experienced someone else getting “our” blessing?) In the face of another disappointment, however, Tyler chooses to exemplify maturity by “refrain(ing) from anger and turn(ing) away wrath” in order to express genuine happiness for a teammate. He continues to wrestle however, with the psalm’s charge, “do not fret.”

We're called to acknowledge God's hand of providence — even when the provision comes in a different manner than expected.

Despite the support of Fritz and self-proclaimed best friend Val (Mindy Kaling), Tyler struggles with his confidence as a MIFTer. In the episode entitled “The Damaged Room,” he inadvertently traps himself and two other coworkers inside a child’s room. In “The Cover Up,” Tyler and Duncan (Lucas Neff), Tyler’s rival, struggle to hide their part in a citywide power outage from an inspector. In “The Vending Machine,” Tyler breaks the MIFTers beloved vending machine, Vendy, and causes the replacement machine to malfunction as well. In the ninth episode, “Bad Hair Day,” he loses Duncan’s hamster-like pet, as well as the lock of hair from the team’s beloved David (another MIFT employee that encountered a work-related demise). And in “Little Monsters,” Tyler auditions multiple times to become a Jokester, only to be told that he’s exhausted his chances because he’s not even remotely funny.

Tyler begins to accept this negative word as truth. Likewise, when faced with setbacks, we often begin to loosen our hold on God’s promises. Yet Psalm 37 says that the “blameless spend their days under the Lord’s care” and that “in times of disaster they will not wither.” Those who trust in the Lord’s ability to guide their steps are promised to thrive even if they experience disappointments. What Tyler initially fails to realize is that each mishap he encountered only strengthened him.

While trapped in the child’s room, he learns that Val isn’t overly clingy, but instead is a lonely monster in need of a friend. When Tyler and Duncan’s ploy to fool the inspector ends up saving the company from being shut down, they realize that they work well together. Tyler ends up embracing his roundabout way of solving problems and manages to save Duncan from being eaten by the rogue vending machine. He also learns that Fritz views him as honest and reliable even after his initial attempt to hide the truth about losing David’s hair. And in the season finale, “It’s Laughter They're After,” Ms. Flint (Bonnie Hunt) offers Tyler the position of Jokester after learning that he was able to make her usually stoic daughter smile.

By the end of the season, Tyler experiences the promises of Psalm 37: “The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand.” Tyler needed to build self-confidence in a new skill while also understanding the importance of community. When life leads us in a direction that seems to be taking us farther away from our dreams, we need to trust that God has our best interests in mind. He is a father who enjoys giving his children good gifts, but there are times when receiving those gifts may mean enduring disappointments and challenges. Even when the realization of our dreams looks differently than we first imagined, we will always find fulfillment when we wait expectantly on the Lord.

Topics: TV