“From the primal elements you brought forth the human race,
and blessed us with memory, reason, and skill. You made us
the rulers of creation...” – The Book of Common Prayer (Rite II, Eucharistic Prayer C)
Here in the US we’ve just commemorated Labor Day which, despite its origins as a celebration of trade unionism, is now a generalized recognition of Work observed by giving everyone a day off. There! I feel better.
Work, believe it or not, is a divine calling. We’ve discussed this before, but remember that humanity has received from God His image and likeness — the imago dei. We reflect God’s likeness in our ability to invent, to make, to solve problems — to create. This is what the Prayer Book means by “memory, reason and skill.”
When Adam and Eve lived in the paradise Eden, they had work to do, tending the garden and overseeing its well-being. God intended that they rule over creation, and that they find joy and contentment as they worked according to their purpose.
Trouble in paradise
As you know, mankind chose his appetite over God’s will, inviting and deserving divine judgment. The interesting thing, though, is that work wasn’t the punishment for this rebellion. From that point forward, work was tarred with frustration and futility. The need for work — all the tasks necessary for food, clothing and shelter — didn’t cease. If anything, they became more acute. And so did our psychological need to produce, to accomplish. More than ever we need the dignity and satisfaction of seeing a task through to completion.
So here we are in the early 21st century, with amazing technologies that have eliminated some of the most difficult, dangerous and tedious physical tasks, but not the affliction of frustration and futility prescribed by the curse. It is darkly comic that we celebrate Labor Day in a country where a majority of Americans hate their jobs.
At least I’ll rest when I’m dead
OK, so the theory goes that we work hard all our lives, retire at 65 or so, die sometime after that and go to Heaven for “eternal rest.” I don’t know about you, but I have no plans to retire. I have too many ideas, plans and projects that keep me motivated to ever consider quitting. Perhaps it’s because I realized I’m no good at golf. And I don’t care much for an eternity of idleness.
You know how the cartoons portray Heaven — either it’s an eternal vacation where we float from cloud to cloud, or it’s an eternal church service. Somehow, if heaven resembles either of these two most popular preconceptions, I’m going to feel deeply cheated.
What would seem like rest would be the pleasure of work without Murphy’s Law; of projects that turned out better than envisioned; of exploring wonder after wonder — of working according to God’s design. That would certainly cause me to worship far more honestly and deeply than any earthly prompt.*
Find work that matters
In his book, The Divine Conspiracy, the late Dallas Willard unpacked Jesus’ teaching that the Kingdom of God is at hand (or among you). One of the most exciting parts of reading this book was the realization that if it’s true the Kingdom is here, then eternal life starts here and now while we’re still alive.
If this is so, a man owes it to himself to make his life — in every aspect — a life of consequence, of significance. I’ve written before about my late father-in-law and the life he built following his service in WWII. His career as a research agronomist resulted in the creation of soybean cultivars that improved nutrition significantly in areas where other crops had failed.
Connect with your purpose
You can make yours a consequential life by choosing to expend your time and your gifts on work that is consistent with your purpose. It is not wrong to get paid — and paid well — for your work, but you will find it difficult to maintain your enthusiasm or your effectiveness if the only thing you enjoy about your work is your paycheck. If you’re wondering how to discover your purpose, check out my post on discovering your purpose here and on combining purpose with passion and potential here.
One last idea for your consideration
I saw the following quotation on Twitter this week:
“The work you do while you procrastinate is probably the work you should be doing for the rest of your life.”
― Jessica Hische
I’m not sure whether I agree with this or not, but I have been thinking about it, and I offer it to you as food for thought.
So how about you? How are you finding meaningful work you love? Add your comments below.
*Note: I’m saying regular worship – as good as it is or can be – is a shadow and a substitute for the time when we are face-to-face with God. Somehow, I don’t believe he’ll need any of the trappings of church as we know it now to draw our attention to Him. Til then carry on and I’ll see you at church.