I hear your collective sigh.
It’s true. Work is hard. Even if you have the opportunity to do something that you absolutely love, something that you were made for, there are still days that are tough. Coworkers can present real challenges. The monotony can get under your skin. The futility can drive you to pull your hair out. (Like when I catalog a book and then discard that book a year or so later). The financial strain of wondering if the ends will meet this month can keep you awake at night.
Work. It’s not perfect.
It’s also not part of the Curse laid out in Genesis 3. God clearly tasks Adam and Eve with taking care of Eden (Genesis 1:28). He invited them to partner with Him in the care of creation. They had a job to do. This all happened long before the Serpent and the fruit and the blame-game and the flaming sword.
We need to work. The drive to accomplish something, to take part in the creative process (and all work is creative; all work generates a product) is an inescapable part of who we are. God works (John 5:17; Romans 8:28) and we, even in our fallen state, continue to reflect the image of God. He poured aspects of Himself into us, and grows them as we walk in faith with Christ.
Our jobs are not the problem. The world in which we do them is the problem.
Futility and monotony are direct results of sin. When Adam and Eve worked in Eden, they didn’t feel frustrated. They had a sense of fulfillment that is always just out of reach for us today. Oh, we might grasp it now and then, but it never fails to fade. Thankfully, there is an answer. There is a place that we can come back to for an attitude adjustment however many times we need one, which, for me, is multiple times a day.
That place? Colossians 3:23-24 –
Whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. (NKJV)
These words stand in the greater context of whole of Chapter 3, in which Paul talks about the character of the new person (the one who has been made new in Christ) and the importance of shunning sin, summing up with a Household Code that illustrates, briefly, how the Christian family is supposed to function in light of their newness and their turning away from sin. The words about work are directed to bondservants, those who served the family. (Note: “Bondservant” is a term that is best understood to mean “slave.” I don’t have time to get into this, but there are many great articles that delve into the New Testament and slavery. I suggest starting here).
Though first directed to a specific group, this command can and should be extended to all believers, whether working outside the home or in. For example, in my house laundry is never-ending and a severe pain in the rear. I tend to fixate on having it “done” as often as possible. Chris has the uncanny ability to sense an empty laundry basket and put something in it. I just about can’t stand it. But as I wash, fold and put away his socks for the umpteenth time, what am I really doing? Who am I really serving?
When I’m at the library putting that week’s order into the system or shuttling a cart of moldy donated books out to the dumpster, it’s easy to get bogged down and feel like I’m not getting anything done. It’s tempting to cut corners and rush through an assignment. But what am I really doing as I correct MARC records? Who am I really serving?
As we continue to think about the abundant life and what it really means, these are important questions. If I work only to serve myself or if I work to please other people, then I have a problem. I need to examine that. And sometimes changing jobs or careers is necessary, even commanded by God, in order to escape that malicious cycle of discontentment. But we’re never going to escape the struggle of work in the life, no matter how important the title, how great the pay, how cool the office. The job is never going to give us the identity or completion that we desire. Instead, we must constantly be shifting our attention back to Christ and do whatever is before us with…well, gusto. With heart.
Whether it’s changing the thousandth diaper of the day or heading up a massive corporation, walking dogs or digging a ditch, filing papers or styling the stars, do it with the sense that God is watching. Do your job to please Him. Work from a place of stability, the kind of stability found in knowing who He is and who you are. Navigate your workplace – the home, the office, the studio, the classroom – with integrity and honesty, as a true child of Almighty God.
And when you forget to do that, like I so often do, just start over.