Part 4: What is Your Attitude Toward Work?

Prepared by Eleanor Lincoln, CSJ, and Catherine Litecky, CSJ
Women at the Well Ministry, St. Paul, Minnesota ©2004

Whatever you do, do from the heart,
as for the Lord and not for others,
knowing that you will receive from the Lord
the due payment of inheritance.

Letter to the Colossians 3:23-24

What kind of work do you plan to do today? Do you look forward to what you will be doing? Or do you dread it?

As a human being you are called to do two things in your life: to love and to work. You prayed about love in Part 3, How Do I Love Others? Today pray that your work will be satisfying.

Your work probably includes first taking care of daily life activities. The rest of your work may helping other people at home, serving in various volunteer capacities, and/or earning a living. Psychologists tell us that meaningful work and meaningful relationships are necessary to human wholeness.

What are the meaningful activities you spend your time and energy on each day? Maybe you work at home caring for your family, writing, studying. Maybe you go to a classroom, an office, a factory. The key word here is “meaningful.”

How much effort do you put into this activity? Does it involve both your mind and your heart? How much immediate personal satisfaction do you receive from your work? Do you find your work does not engage you fully? In the long run, do you think what you do really matters to yourself, to others, to society as a whole?

Whether your work involves physical or mental effort, do you see it as meaningful, purposeful activity? How does it contribute in some way to the building up of your family, your neighborhood, your civic and church communities? When you build life-giving relationships, show compassion, or serve others – all of which are work – your work is purposeful.

Take a few moments to think and pray about

the work you have done or will do today

how your work has helped someone

the quality of your relationship with a fellow employee, a customer, your boss;

whatever you may have leaned about yourself at work.

You may think of “work” as only something you get paid to do, but, work is essential to the lives of every one. Of course, getting paid to work is the way most people are able to provide food, clothing, and shelter. Paychecks buy transportation, security, education, recreation. The money earned can be used to support your church, the government, and worthy causes.

Does your salary also enable you to reach out to those who are hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, ill, and imprisoned? As Jesus tells us in the parable of the Last Judgment (Matthew 25:31-46), “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Most of us find more ways to spend money than we have bank accounts or credit cards! How did you manage last month? Jot down the major categories in which you spend money. What do you discover about your values?

Extending your heart and mind beyond yourself involves creativity in using your imagination. Working creatively can move you beyond the merely routine and repetitious. If you feel trapped in a job or a family situation that gives you little joy or fulfillment, can you think of ways to be creative about your work?

A book you may find helpful as you think about your relationships and your work is Dorothy Soelle’s To Work and To Love: a Theology of Creation, Fortress Press, 1984.

Ask yourself now:

In what one way is my work (either daily tasks or my job) life-giving?

How do I deal with difficulties at work and with my own limitations?

What is one way I can be creative at work, relate to someone at work, or change a dehumanizing system?

While work is a vital dimension of humanity, for some people it can become obsessive or addictive. Do you know people who replace God and even family with the gods of success, ambition, or power? Being a “workaholic” means being addicted to work and, as a result, being subject to burnout and despair. True work needs to be balanced by prayer and leisure.

Ideally through your work you should be able to express yourself, share with others, and contribute to the building up of the world. Perhaps you know people who have boring or distasteful jobs but yet bring a positive attitude to their work. Satisfaction is found not only in work well done but also in human relationships.

Have you encountered people in service jobs who can either make or break your day by their attitude toward their work? One bus driver in particular is fondly remembered by many riders for the hospitality he offered as he greeted each rider warmly. His genuine interest in each rider brightened their lives. He obviously enjoyed his job very much and made the job into a daily blessing for himself and others. Any work, no matter how routine or “boring” can become a blessing for others as well as for ourselves.

God, who sees all work as good, shows that work, any work, can be holy and good. As a human being, can you be challenged today to be a co-creator with God?

As you think about any work you do, can you say “how good it is”?

Remember these words from the creation story:

Then God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw how good the light was. God then separated the light from the darkness …. Thus evening came, and morning followed–the first day

Genesis 1:2-5

God continues with the other “days” of creation, always seeing “how good it was.” You remember how the creation story ends with these words:

Thus the heavens and the earth and all their array were completed. Since on the seventh day God was finished with the work God had been doing, God rested on the seventh day from all the work God had undertaken. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all the work God had done in creation. Such is the story of the heavens and the earth at their creation

Genesis 2:1-4

The creation story is, of course, a poetic interpretation, not a scientific account, of how the world and everything in it came into being. But it shows that there is a rhythm to all creation, including your own creativity and work. Like all of creation, human work is good – and good for you.

Remember also how Jesus shows the value of work. During his lifetime he is identified as a worker, the carpenter’s son. In his stories or parables Jesus shows knowledge of all kinds of work: sowing grain, working in a vineyard, building houses, sweeping floors, making bread, fishing. Like Jesus, try to look at your work as an expression of your love for God.

Many psalms in the Bible praise God for the work of creation. Here are a few lines adapted from Psalm 8 that can remind you of God’s work of creation and your participation in it:

O Lord, our God, how glorious is your name over all the earth!

You have exalted your majesty above the heavens….

When I behold your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you set in place–

What are we that you should be mindful of us, or that you should care for us?

You have made us little less than the angels, and crowned us with glory and honor.

You have given us rule over the works of your hands, putting all things under our feet….

O Lord, our God, how glorious is your name over all!