In On Work Alex Waidley 3:22 PM
One of my best men in my wedding and one of my best friends in the entire world recently quit his job and is embarking on what he calls his “40 Days of Freedom”: an extended period of joblessness and relaxation much deserved for a man with one of the better work ethics I have ever known. As one of his closest friends I, despite the bad economy and the fact he had a well paying job managing a restaurant in Manhattan, encouraged him to quit and set sail on this new journey.
You see, this friend has been working in the restaurant business since the age of 15 and has never really stopped working. His work rate, competence, overall good looks and great personality led to him managing a very popular restaurant in Santa Barbara as a junior (and full time student) in college and allowed him to never have a problem finding a job wherever he lived, which is now Brooklyn.
So why am I writing at length about this friend and describing him in detail? Because his refusal to continue to slave away at 60 hours a week and late hours is noble and it gave me the opportunity to reflect on the state of work in our culture today.
Biblically speaking, work is a very good thing, a deep part of human nature. Simply put, we were created to work. Read the story of Adam and Eve sometime and notice how God immediately puts them to work, allowing them to enter into His creative process. God doesn’t do this because he is some distant taskmaster creating spineless slaves to control, but because work and creating is a good and wonderful thing that brings him glory. In fact this Christian view of work as something we were created for is a fairly unique and subversive idea, especially in our current American culture.
In America today, work has in some ways become corrupted, and evil has successfully melted and manipulated it into something we either despise or worship. Instead of using the talents and gifts unique to ourselves to glorify God and spread his love, we can find ourselves working in order to further our status economically, socially and even emotionally. Work, instead of being a means of which we take part in God’s creative project called Creation, becomes a spiteful means to a self-absorbed end. We work to get money, to get the pride which comes from admiration, and because frankly, we are all a bit vain. Vanity is nothing more than our natural good desire to be a part of something bigger than ourselves mutated into a desire to set ourselves up as the center of our own universe.
The other end of the spectrum is work as an end in itself. I recently heard one of my favorite comedians say the only point of life is to work, as if the mere act of working itself gives our life meaning. But doesn’t that beg the question, how can work be a purpose filled end if there is no such thing as a meaningful end, even to our own lives? And even if it is the act of work itself which brings purpose into our lives that doesn’t make all acts of work good. There are many people in our world and in the past who have committed themselves to acts of work which were unspeakably evil and had nothing but evil intentions in mind. So are we to say then, well they worked hard despite the fact they were working towards genocide, so I guess their life was just as meaningful as mine? There is a big moral problem with the idea of work as an end in itself.
In a very roundabout way, I think this blog post is really a letter of encouragement to my dear friend who has began his “40 Days of Freedom” today. I hope he, and all of us, take time to reflect on the nature of our working and where we tend to find ourselves on the spectrum between work as a means and work as an end. For myself, I tend to swing too much towards the work as an end and can find myself thinking, ‘well I’ve done what I needed to do today, so cheers to me’. But when I am really honest and thinking clearly and with the perspective of Jesus, I realize our work, specifically as Christians, is a means by which we spread the loving Kingdom of God on earth and a preview of the glorious “end” that will come when Jesus returns to reconcile all of creation to Him. I quantify end because it is not really the end but the beginning, as C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before”.