Is Work a Curse or Inherently Good?

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I recently overheard a conversation between two relative strangers: a middle-aged, mothering woman was asking a scrappy-headed and pockmark-faced young man in his mid-twenties how he liked his job.

“It’s okay,” he said, staring down at his unlaced black Skechers.

“Pays the bills, right?” she prompted with an encouraging smile.

“Yeah, no - it’s not so bad. For now.”

His “it’s okay for now” response seems to sum up the vague sense of detachment experienced by a large swath of working folks these days. A recent survey from Right Management revealed that over two-thirds of respondents were unhappy at work.

This comes as no surprise to some, arguing that work is nothing more than a curse, a punishment from God. After all, isn’t that how it was depicted in the early account of Genesis after the Fall? “By the sweat of the brow you will eat your food” (Gen. 3:19). So lace up your bootstraps, or your Skechers, or whatever, suck it up and march forth into the prickly thickets of the gnarly workforce. Any naïve attempts to package it up differently will only lead to disappointment and disillusionment. The human race screwed up a long time ago, and that’s that.

Well, honestly. This is quite depressing.

Work is simply the act of creating stuff, or producing output. It can take all sorts of shapes and forms, whether we get paid for it or not. And come to think of it, weren’t Adam and Eve working before the Fall, anyway? Sure they were. They were subduing the earth and naming animals and making babies, just like God told them to do. The only difference was they had the benefit of that delicious hyper-local super-organic fruit dropping right off the trees, which left them free to pursue more creative and fulfilling outlets rather than tilling the soil.

Perhaps work was not meant to receive such a bad rap from God. True, we all have the burden of making a living, which requires us to find a job for the sole purpose of earning money rather than doing whatever we’d like. But I wouldn't necessarily call that a curse. Any job that generates a paycheck, regardless of how miserable one interprets the work, is somehow inherently valuable to someone, otherwise there wouldn’t be a payment received. Businesses have to provide value to others, or else they wouldn’t exist. Which makes you wonder, could work be inherently valuable in and of itself?

I’ve always viewed work more like a giant jigsaw puzzle, a gift God has given us to figure out. The jumbled mess arrives at our doorstep in an unmarked box, with no clue as to what the big picture is supposed to look like. We then embark on a lifelong journey of studying the pieces, pushing them together, playing around, trying to make them fit within the layers of confounding circumstances unraveling around us: what are we good at? What are the needs out there? What bills are due?

Unfortunately, for too many, their entire lives feel like an unfinished mess, with puzzle pieces scattered and clumped in small piles on the kitchen table.

This process of navigating our working life is the crucible by which we find out who we are, what we’re made of, what we’re capable of. It forms the outlines of character, responsibility, persistence and self-respect, critical qualities in the development of any person of wholeness and integrity. However, it's up to us how much effort we put into it.

Whether you're writing a blog, or managing people, or cleaning a toilet, it’s all work, and it's all good, given to us by God, who personally showed us that work is a creative act of love. But, hey, work is still work, and even He needed to take a break after a few days.

Post by J. B. Wood, author of At Work as it is in Heaven: 25 Ways to Re-imagine the Spiritual Purpose of Your Work.

Image by Tim Miller. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr.

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