I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with work. You could say it’s because my passions get the better of me, leaving me to feel unfulfilled in a job that isn’t suited to my abundance of zeal. My love for my work has always been directly linked to its alignment with my passions and goals. My hatred of it has held the same link, just with an opposite result.
If I’m not doing what I love, I feel all stopped up creatively and professionally.
I come from the cusp of the millennial generation. While my age puts me on the fringe of some of the more obvious tenets of being a millennial, my attitude toward vocation does not. I have bought the whole “do what you love” idea hook, line and sinker. And I’m not the only one. Steve Jobs was known to have said:
The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.
A quick survey of higher education and the current job market reveals that many in my generation are abiding by this very principle. Why settle when you can get everything you want? As children, we were told we could do or be anything. As adults, we expect it. But not everyone sees this millennial motto as helpful or even sustainable. While we were created for joy and to get pleasure in what we do, believing that the only way to do great work is to love what you do might actually lead us down a path toward discontentment or at the very least, perpetual unemployment.
God created us to work and cultivate (Genesis 1:28-29). Pre-fall, it was always joyful, always a blessing, and always fruitful. But even in a sin-cursed world, work is still God’s gift to us (Exodus 31:1-11). We image Him by working hard. God worked by bringing forth life, vegetation and the very stars in the sky (Genesis 1:1-27). We also work to bring fruit out of our labors. Our culture tells us that if we don’t love what we are doing, it is meaningless or has little value. As Christians, we have a guideline for our work that actually goes much deeper.
Here are some points to guide you as you think about the intersection of your passion and your work.
1. Your work has value whether you love it or not.
Along the lines of God’s gift of work, we recognize that work is no longer what it was fully intended to be. What was once created to be a function of our roles as image bearers, now is marred by the effects of sin (Genesis 3:16-19). Meaning, not only do we face strife and difficulty, but how we feel about the work is not always the ultimate factor for the work’s value in our society.
Some days you may walk through your office door filled to the brim with ideas and drive for the day ahead. Others, you can barely get out of bed, and you see your office chair as the bane of your existence. Neither feeling toward work can always be attributed to the value the work has on you or on the community surrounding you. In the same way that your love for your spouse or more importantly, God, does not determine the dignity (or glory) of the object of your affections, neither does work derive the same worth from your meandering emotions.
Your feelings toward your work cannot be the deciding factor. Your work has value by the sheer fact that it is not done in isolation but works in tandem with the community around you (co-workers, partners, etc.) to accomplish a greater purpose outside yourself. But it’s more than that, too. While our feelings toward our work are not determinative of the work’s value, our feelings toward our work matter. God cares about our emotions and attitudes toward His gifts, including the gift of work.
2. God wants you to love your work.
I know. I said earlier that this is not ultimate. But it is important. God delights in giving good things to His children, which means He wants you to enjoy the work He has given you (Matthew 7:11; James 1:17).
Like I already said, work is designed by God. We were created to work. We image God by working. Work is a gift to us. Our work should be the overflow of the abundance of good things God has given to us as image bearers, namely our talents and abilities.
When we see our work as a gift from Him, it gives us fresh, clean lenses with which to see our daily work. While you may not be able to always feel how your work is valuable, you can trust that the God who saved you and brought you to himself is also giving you a good gift in your seemingly mundane job.
Throughout Scripture we see God caring as much about our feelings as He does about our actions (Joel 2:12-13). He is in the heart-transformation and life-transformation business (Ezekiel 36:26). If our hearts toward our work are ones of bitterness, discontentment or indifference then even our most fruitful work efforts are like filthy rags before Him.
For example, the college student who works as a cashier in the school cafeteria is providing the necessary nutrients for her fellow students as they also labor and study alongside her. She is not merely providing an exchange of dollar bills. She is partnering with the cafeteria workers to nourish the bodies of her fellow classmates. It is this understanding of work that provides the context for her affections toward it. It is not a means to an end primarily (i.e., money for groceries or the movies this Saturday), but a joint effort for God’s glory. Her work matters, even if the world around here deems it small and replaceable.
3. Recognize the importance of faithfulness in the midst of difficulty.
This is where we veer off from the “love what you do” mantra. Again, like I already said, we live in a post-Genesis 3 world, which means even the most lovable career will sometimes prick us with thorns and thistles. Even the nurse who loves every minute of the daily grind of her job faces a bad day every once in a while. Has she missed her calling when she would rather go home and sleep than administer one more drug to an ungrateful patient? What about the waiter who can’t wait to pay his service dues and finish his job with the restaurant? Can he find meaning in his work even though the monotony of waiting on impatient customers feels anything but meaningful?
We will not always love our work. In fact, there will be seasons where we despise it more than have warm fuzzies over it. Because we live on this side of Eden, we will often hit roadblocks in our work. We will be disappointed with our bosses and co-workers. We will be passed over for the promotion. Our computer will crash when we are on deadline. And sometimes, we will just be plain bored. But because we follow Christ, we are called to something greater: faithfulness.
Faithful working as a Christian looks different in the mundane realities of work than our non-Christian friends. It means coming in on Saturday if that is what is needed to finish the job, never mind that you might miss the first football game of the season. It means entering in the data completely, even if it takes you all day because God sees you when you work, and your goal is to honor Him (Ephesians 6:5-8; Colossians 3:23-24).
Our Ultimate Fulfillment
Because of Christ, our identity is found not in our work but in the One who bought us with His very blood. Because of Christ, we work for God alone and not the approval of man. Because of Christ, we do not need to feel like a failure when our job feels less valuable than the friend sitting next to us on Sunday morning. He is the One who provides our identity that can never be shaken, and He is the One who enables us to labor well in a job that might not always be lovable.
Sin cursed our work, and with it went the perfect job. Less it be all gloom and doom, in God’s kindness many of us get to do what we love. And that’s a blessing. When we do, though, it’s not about our ultimate fulfillment in our work, but in our fulfillment in the One who gave us our work.
The love we feel for our jobs is designed to point us to the One we work for. So we can work in a job we love or a job we hate with full passion because of Christ. Should we strive to use our gifts to their fullest capacity? Absolutely. Should we want to love what we are doing? Yes. But we are also called to be faithful with what we have been given, even if the love is absent.
Copyright 2014 Courtney Reissig. All rights reserved.