Would you if you didn’t have to?

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.

Published by

Johnna

I am a Christian educator and writer.I have worked in churches, denominational offices, and seminaries. I have a PhD in Theology from Princeton Theological Seminary, with a focus on Practical Theology and educating in faith. In 2010, my book, "How the Other Half Lives: the challenges facing clergy spouses and partners," was published by Pilgrim Press. I believe that words can build doorways that lead to encounters with God through the Spirit.

3 thoughts on “Would you if you didn’t have to?”

  1. I’ve been thinking about the idea that we deserve(?) a chance to make a living or to have our daily bread–it’s an interesting thought to me. Are we owed these things?—maybe in the sense that we “show qualities worthy” (Oxford) of these things but then who decides that? I don’t think Jesus taught his disciples to pray to the “Father” for daily bread because they deserve it –how can they/we? Do we deserve to work so that we can earn our daily bread?
    Those who are blessed with a job and have the wherewithal to feed others are called as followers of Jesus or Allah/God to feed them in the scriptures–not because they deserve to be fed, I don’t think, but because it is our duty to share–and our blessing to be able to do so. Anyway you and Darby are making me think which can be a dangerous thing!

    1. Hi Bill, thanks for your thoughts. I believe everything is a gift from God, and I believe that the blessings of food, clothing, and shelter are for everyone. Work is a way to have these things and feel a sense of dignity in the process. The question is whether having the blessing of work can be used as a measuring stick when it’s all unearned gift from God in the first place – no the only point Ray makes, but a thought-provoking one…peace, JOhnna

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