Can we be real for a minute? Sometimes work sucks. There always seems to be too much of it. Other people don’t measure up to our standards. The boss, the numbers, our own heart put too much pressure on it. Most of the time we get by with a kind of ambivalence to work - we need money to do things in other areas of life, so we need to keep going back. Sometimes, if we are lucky, work is exciting and energizing and we look forward to what the next day will bring. And sometimes it is an exhausting, infuriating, life-draining place we never want to see again. Add to that responsibilities with the wife and kids, not to mention around the house, and it seems like there is a near constant tax on our time.
But what if we got to choose how some of that went down? Not the bosses or the coworkers, or the lawn that always seems to grow back, but our own heart. Is it possible that there has been some wrong-thinking around the idea of work that has been handed down from generation to generation, from days long past, that has made us lose sight of the point?
It was a few years back that I was listening to a podcast and heard a pastor first deliver a revolutionary idea, and for me it was like someone finally turned on the lights in a dark house after we’ve spent years bumping into things at night. It has really stuck with me, and the thought surfaces often when I am struggling at work. Go back to the beginning, in the book of Genesis. What does God say to Adam about working?
I think that for a lot of guys, we tend to answer that question out of Genesis 3, after the Fall. That is the world we inhabit, right? God tells Adam that from this day on he is going to eat his bread by the sweat of his brow, and that work will be a pain to him “all the days of your life.” And so, we’re doomed. We get kicked out of the Garden, and all through the course of human history we have to grit our teeth and buckle down just to get by. We’re wrung out, sometimes actually in pain, and tomorrow we need to do it all over again. Our reality seems to confirm that Genesis 3 world. And yet, that is a short-sightedness about work that also opens us up to a belief about our existence that is contrary to what God intended.
Back up a few verses, to when God first created Adam. Genesis 2:15 records that “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Other verses describe Adam and Eve’s primary mandate to be bringing the wilds of Creation under their dominion - expanding the peace and beauty of the Garden across the face of the Earth. So Adam was a gardener by design/calling/profession. If you’re like me, gardening even a small patch of ground is most of the time more trouble than it’s worth. Imagine being told to garden a planet! To be fair, God did tell them to have lots of kids to help Adam and Eve on their mission (and all the parents wonder, does that make more or less work for them?).
So, even before the Fall, the expectation was set that we would be working. Work is not the punishment resulting from eating the forbidden fruit. We were meant to be doing it all along. Sure, work got harder after Adam and Eve were kicked out of Eden, but there is another reason other than punishment that explains Adam’s new and distorted view of his labor. The work in the Garden was easier and more fulfilling because in the Garden Adam and Eve got to do their work with God. He walked with them in the cool of the day, and we get the picture from Genesis that God was in constant community with them. That is what they really lost in the Fall, the connection to the true source of their life which had been an integral part of their existence up to that point.
Now, if that isn’t revelation enough, think about what happens when we bring Jesus into the story, all those generations later. He came to restore our connection with the Father, to make it possible for us to be in constant communication with Him again. One of the things that can get fixed when we restore that connection is our ability to work as Adam did. Granted, we may not go to work in a beautiful garden with all the plants and trees one could think of, but that pales in comparison to being able to bring our Father into the workplace. In Colossians we are told to do our work “as unto the Lord,” but how might our attitudes change if we do our work “as with the Lord,” right there in the trenches with us?
For me, this has played a huge role in the career transition that I’ve been navigating. I had been doing some really great stuff for 13 years as a high school teacher, before God started making it clear that I was supposed to be somewhere else. I could have ignored that tug on my heart, and kept right on doing a job I loved. But then where would I be. Laboring along all by myself, stuck in the weeds and muck. That’s not to say that somehow I would have lost God, but would my professional experience have been everything that it could be if I gritted it out by myself?
Now, I’m not saying that this is a magic wand, God never is. To say that God has just blessed all my steps these past months would be to grossly oversimplify the situation.The switch from teaching to aerospace sales has not been easy, and some days its been downright hard. And it takes some doing in order to bring my attitude around from the way I have always approached the idea of work. But the good news is that Jesus wants to help us with that too. He wants to help us to grow and heal and gain freedom from the things that have led us astray in the past. He is willing to come alongside for all of that if we let Him. Maybe work is just a place to start. Invite Him in, see what happens. Sure, there will still be days when the copier gets jammed in 12 different places right before a meeting, or you get handed a two-week project that needs to be completed by tomorrow. But knowing that He wants to be there with me makes it a little easier to take those things in stride. Sometimes.
Because sometimes what the copier really needs is a baseball bat to the fuser! I guess I still have room to grow...