Would you work if you didn’t have to? Seriously. If you didn’t need the money, would you still work?
(Darby Kathleen Ray, Working, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011, p.7)
It’s the opening of Ray’s book, kicking off a thoughtful exploration of how work affects us all. Beyond survival and acquiring enough to live a decent life, Darby believes that work is about having something to do. She continues:
Paid or unpaid, work endows our daily lives with structure, routine, and purpose. Through work, we act on the world around us. (ibid, p7)
I agree. Whether it’s the school schedule, paid or volunteer work, ongoing housework, or an occasional special project, work gives shape to my days in a way that other things do not (I’ve yet to check my play schedule to pencil in a work day, but I’ve certainly done the opposite). I’ve often heard discussions about the work ethic, but have yet to hear one about the relaxation ethic. How about you?
Is it a good thing that work provides the structure, routine, and purpose to my life? It’s not a bad thing. It’s how things are in the adult world. But sometimes the structures that define my daily living are the very ones I don’t notice – too big to be seen, perhaps. The problem is I might mistake something so basic for my life’s foundation. There needs to be something bigger and holier to this life, something that isn’t caught up in my abilities and my production. At some point, those things are going to diminish, perhaps disappear altogether.
Is there a bigger structure, an alternate routine, an eternal purpose that puts my work into perspective? Of course. It’s quite simple, but not particularly glamorous or easy to spot. It’s mentioned in church every so often, and quite a few Bible passages point me to it: Love God, and love neighbor as I do my own self. The God/self/neighbor lens brings my work into a much larger, sacred world. It can help me figure out how to work for something beyond a few material goods, a professional title, and a place to spend my time. It’s a way to offer who I am through my work, and a way to avoid mistaking my work for who I am.
Dear God, bless the work of my hands, that I might honor you and serve my neighbor as I work. Amen.