The first thing God did with Adam was to put him to work. We are all called to be workers. In the earliest part of the creation story God, the universe’s first worker, gave man the garden to “tend and keep” (Genesis 2:15). Work was given to man not as a punishment but as a gift.
The United Nations 19th International Conference of Labour Statisticians has established five different types of work that can be measured:
Own-use production work: production of goods and services for our own final use (such as farming).
Employment work: work in exchange for pay or profit (this is what most people do in the US).
Unpaid trainee work: work without pay to acquire workplace skills or experience.
Volunteer work: non-compulsory work performed for others without pay.
Other work activities: everything else.
This brief snapshot captures totally different types of work. We all know that when we finish our day’s “employment work,” there is still much more work left to do. Think about your typical day before and after your job. There are meals to make; a home to clean and care for; lawns to mow, cars to wash and children and family members who need help.
There are many different types of work but the most common is employment work, which we do in order to buy the things we need and want. But at it’s very core, a Christian approach to work is rooted in man’s relationship with God and creation. God has given us much more depth to our work than merely earning money.
Pope Francis stated that being a worker and engaged in business is a genuine human and Christian calling. He calls work “a noble vocation, provided that those engaged in it see themselves challenged by the greater meaning in life; this will enable them truly to serve the common good by striving to increase the goods of this world and to make them more accessible to all.”
When we forget that our work is an opportunity to use our gifts and our energies to help meet the needs of our fellow man, we forget that we are called by God to be a worker. Colossians 3:23-24 says, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily as for the Lord rather than for men—it is the Lord Christ whom you serve.”
Realizing that we actually work for Christ, means it is important to integrate our spiritual life and our work life. If we are serving God with our work, then our work has a higher purpose. If we don’t understand the true nature of work in the world, then we will feel unsatisfied no matter what kind of work we do or how much money we make. And we will also use work as a status symbol, ignoring the fact that there is dignity in ALL different type of work.
We have a tendency to feel that the person with the big office and big paycheck has more value than the person who is emptying trash cans and cleaning the bathrooms. When we do this we fail to acknowledge that there is equal dignity in all different occupations. The CEO and the janitor have different tasks, probably different education levels and different sized paychecks. But what would the workplace be like if no one every emptied the trash or cleaned the bathrooms?
All work has equal dignity if done for the glory of God. Each of us is called to work as a duty to God. Pope Francis reminds us that work is fundamental to the dignity of the human person. He explains that “work ‘anoints’ with dignity,” and that dignity is not conferred by one’s ancestry, family life, education, type of job, status or salary.
Whether we earn a little or a lot, work allows us to support our family and it is how we get “our daily bread.” Not only does our work sustain us physically, but it also sustains us spiritually. It is clear that our wages provide the resources to physically support us. However, what is more challenging to understand is that our work (and how we accept, respect and support the work of others), is the mechanism that provides for the nourishment of our spirit.
Together, each human person, makes up the Body of Christ. Work honors the gifts and talents that we received from God. We are all called to use these talents in proportion to our abilities and resources for our own care and benefit and for that of others. Depending on your approach to work in your life, you can spread the light of Christ or not.
Are you a frustrated worker always complaining and badmouthing your fellow employees and management? Do you constantly whine about what goes on in the office or your hours or your co-workers? Listen to your inner voice as well as the Holy Spirit to see if you need to rethink your attitude toward work.
Make a list of the gifts and talents God has given to you and if you don’t use them in your job, see if you might change your job or even make time for a hobby or a way to serve (maybe in your parish) which utilizes those God given gifts. Joy follows when you use your gifts and put them to good use.
As much as possible make sure that work is not interfering with your family life—your vocation as a husband, wife, parent, child, sibling or friend. If your work means you constantly miss important times with the family, then you may need to make some changes. Even if you work less because you are putting your focus on the important areas of your vocation, your work time will be more productive if your priorities are in the proper order.
It is important to remember that God is our Provider and he’s always faithful to provide for our needs. Obviously, our jobs are a big part of that. We need to be grateful to God for the work he has provided to us. No matter how frustrating our jobs may be at times, they are still a blessing from God. The most important way to stay grateful on the job is to always keep in mind that you’re working for the Lord. As Colossians 3 says, “It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.”
Happy Labor Day!