Famous writer, Annie Dillard, once said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives”. Apparently, the average person will spend 90,000 hours at work in their lifetime.
Our lives revolve around our work. Monday to Friday, 9 to 5. Not too long ago my brother left a multinational company. He didn’t enjoy working long hours and for a company that only cared about the bottom line.
Work is great if you enjoy it. What happens if – or when – you don’t and you can’t get out?
No work will give you everlasting fulfilment
God gave work to the first humans for their enjoyment but sin changed everything. After the Fall, God cursed the serpent, Eve and then Adam. To Adam, God said, “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis chapter 3, verses 17-19).
When God cursed Adam, he was essentially prophesying what the consequences of sin were, and one of the consequences of sin is the “painful toil” that work would bring. In the past, farming and agriculture were their main form of work and because sin affected not just humanity’s soul, it also affected the whole world, including the soil and weather, working became difficult. It’s not easy to grow crops because of a number of factors you have to get right. Growing an avocado takes 5 to 13 years!
In modern Western society, most people have moved away from farming and agriculture but work is still a source of ‘painful toil’ for us at some stage (or in different seasons!) of our lives. We may not have to deal directly with soil and the land, but we do have to constantly deal with people and as long as sin is present in the world, we will meet many difficult and challenging people. Our patience will be tested, our ego will be hurt, and we will constantly be pitted against each other. Don’t forget – not only will we be working with and for sinners, we are also sinners with lots of personal issues to deal with.
So, take heart. If you’re not finding fulfilment in your work right now, chances are, a lot of people around you are feeling the same too.
Your work is not your identity
Because work takes up a huge chunk of time in our lives – a huge 90,000 hours in our lives! – we naturally associate our work to who we are.
Have you met someone new lately? How long did it take for him or her to ask you what you do? How did you feel? Were you proud to say your job title or did you try and move on from the topic quickly?
We ask for someone’s job title. We ask about what they do at work. Asking about someone’s job title or what they do at work is not inherently bad. The problem is when we do it often and it becomes our conversation repertoire, we are subconsciously sending a message to others and ourselves that ‘our work matter and it’s a part of my identity’.
When work becomes our identity, we become ‘workaholics’. Workaholics are not necessarily those who work long hours, but rather, workaholics are people who place their self-worth on what they do. They might intentionally work longer hours to make people think they’re important in the company so they have to stay back late.
When we start thinking our work is our identity, we’ve committed idolatry: Worshipping Work instead of worshipping God.
Only God gives us true fulfilment
Our identity should only come from God. By being in a relationship with him, as we get to know God deeper, we will get to know ourselves deeper too. Work is an act of worship, a response to a loving Creator who made us creative beings.
When we look at work before ‘The Fall’, we get a glimpse that Adam and Eve were created to name the animals and tend the Garden of Eden. They did it in partnership with the Lord. Knowing this, we can also change our perspective on how we work:
1. Work in partnership with God
2. Work by cultivating and enriching
We can invite God into our lives, even in our work. We can spend time with him and find joy in doing work together with the Lord. And secondly, we can find ways to cultivate and enrich those around us or the environment we’re in. When we actively contribute to the lives of those around us and our environment, we’ll rediscover a little of the world before sin.
Whatever work you’re doing right now, whether it’s paid or volunteer, you can find ways to work in partnership with God as well as cultivating and enriching others and your environment. You’ll gradually find joy and fulfilment, and even love what you do.
Rachel is the children and youth pastor at Northern Life Baptist Church in Sydney. She loves volleyball, reading and a good TV drama! She has recently finished studying a Master of Divinity at Morling College and she’s continuing further studies towards another Masters.