This article was previously published in Sword & Spade magazine.
Tim Bennett describes losing a job and finding the meaning of work.
I was laid off about 18 months ago. I had known it was coming for several months, but that didn’t make losing my income any easier. Since I had seen the writing on the wall, I’d been looking for other employment for quite some time, but nothing panned out. So, the week before Thanksgiving, with Christmas right around the corner, I was worried about the normal budget strains of the holidays, but now added to that were the basics like my mortgage payment and grocery bill.
I wish I could remember where I heard it, but someone told me many years ago that a job will always let you down. By “job” I mean those positions held for varying reasons, though reputation and income are the main ones. I didn’t recognize it at the time, but as I progressed through my professional career it became obvious — jobs do let you down. Even with several jobs that I really liked and from which I received some level of fulfillment, there always came a time when they let me down.
I realize that the disappointment came about because I somehow identified part of myself with the job and was hurt when it felt as if I had given more to the job than it gave back. The reality is that jobs don’t reciprocate human values, so they don’t
When I set myself to work…I was more of a man at work and not just part of a system.
consider such things. They are transactional positions we hold — until we don’t. I doubt my old job “misses” me.
When I was laid off, I recall being anxious about what was going to happen and wondering if I could still adequately provide for my family. My family was my biggest concern, so I couldn’t half-step and focus on finding the “right job” for me. I knew I had to just do something. So, I went out and worked. I found odd jobs, I fixed things, and I did projects for people who didn’t have the time or ability to do those things themselves. Through the physical and cognitive abilities that God has blessed me with, and the support and encouragement of friends and family that He has put in my life, I began to discover work, and I discovered that work is something given to us by God, while a job is something given to us by an employer. I have always prided myself on being a hard worker, but I was probably focused on the job rather than the work. Now, I have found myself embracing work full-time, and it has proven to be more than just a job.
A few years ago, I would have argued that “doing a good job” versus “working well” is a distinction without a difference. However, I have begun to recognize that a job is something we do to earn income, whereas work is much more. When I did a “good job” at my job, I was aware that it would please my employer. This is not necessarily bad, but it isn’t the deeper dignity of work. When I set myself to work — in attics, under decks, and on a ladder — I learned to be present in the task itself. I was more of a man at work and not just a part of a system.
Work is something we all need to do because it is our duty, not a punishment. God commanded us to work, and thus, whether we do it for pay, out of necessity, or simply to serve others, our work should be guided by Him — and that is what I recognize as the real distinction between work and a job. Since our work must be guided by God, if our labor is simply led by our boss, our need for income, professional aspirations, or some other reason not tethered to God, then we are just doing a job. I think this helps us to see a distinction between the man who is a hard worker and the man who just works too much. The latter has likely made an idol of his job and allowed it to become his primary identity. But the hard worker sets himself to his tasks with dignity and virtue that is inseparable from God and family. A virtuous worker sees the good in work continually and is satisfied in a worthy effort. A man who idolizes a job looks for a promotion insatiably and is never satisfied.
Less Can Be More
Truthfully, I could have been working all along (and I did at times), but I was usually just focused on doing the job. It took a personal trauma for me to begin opening my eyes to work and trusting God more. For that experience, I am very grateful.
I wish I’d had a better understanding of work long before I did. I was lost in “what’s the next thing I need to do in this job?” rather than “what is my work accomplishing? And is it what God intends for me to do?” For too long my work was something I did and tried to make a part of me, whereas it should have been a part of me that I offered in service to God. It wasn’t enough that I labored hard for my family and was a good provider, because I was holding back in a way that disconnected my labor from my God.
My income is significantly less than it was two years ago, I usually labor more hours than I would prefer, and I wake up more slowly these days due to the aches and soreness that perpetually hang on to a 45-year-old body. But I love my work. This new life of physical labor can be hard, but it’s kind of like kids learning to eat their vegetables; it’s not something they would necessarily choose for themselves, but it is good for them. And, in the end, it won’t let you down.