I have a confession: I love my job.
When I tell people this, the reaction is shock. At the risk of stating the obvious, most people do not love their jobs. This is true even for Christians, who are implored numerous times in Scripture to take joy in all things, even in suffering! We don't like our jobs. We don't like them just as much as non-Christians don't like them.
Until a couple years ago I didn't like my job either. Frankly, I had a terrible attitude about my real job. What could maintaining databases and running marketing campaigns have to do with anything that was truly meaningful? And notice I said "my real job." Like many others I saw my job as the way I earned money as I practiced my vocation in my off hours by blogging, speaking at church, and working on my book.
There was the way I provided for my family, but that was different from my desire to do something meaningful. Those things rarely overlapped. I hoped that the meaningful work would eventually start paying me enough to provide for me and my family while feeding my spiritual need of doing the job I was made to do.
But this is a profoundly frustrating way to think about work. More important, it isn't Christian. For the Christian, work is the practice of making the world beautiful. And we do it because our God is beautiful. This is why we can say work is a "gift." God gives us the pleasure of participating in what he does.
This also bridges the divide between what we feel we are called to do and what we feel that we have to do to make ends meet. For a Christian all work is about creating something beautiful, something that reflects the nature of God. So a pastor or missionary who does not do beautiful work is being less Christian than a garment worker who is striving to make the very best clothing they can.
I love my job. But when I got hired at my present company four years ago I wasn't exactly excited to be there. I had wanted to go to get my PhD in Early Christianity and Judaism with a focus on scriptural interpretation. The work of consulting seemed completely meaningless.
Then I met my current boss. My boss has the same PhD that I wanted. So I asked him, wasn't he upset that he was working in the meaningless world of consulting instead of the academy? He was shocked. "We help companies run better," he said. He told me that people spend a majority of their lives at work and when the work is painful and inefficient that their whole life suffers. We get to fix that. That totally changed the way I saw what I was doing.
I've broken the word gift into the acronym G.I.F.T to help communicate how I now view work.
G is for "give." The first step in creating something beautiful is that we give something of ourselves to our work. This doesn't mean that we have to be artists. I've seen people create excel spreadsheets that showed creativity and passion. In the book FLOW: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihaly tells the story of a factory worker who repeated a rote process hundreds of times a day with enthusiasm because he wanted it to be beautiful.
I think the image of a garden is useful. Every job is an empty plot of ground. You can just roll out some sod and keep the grass trimmed or you can landscape. The job itself is not more prone to being landscaped or not. It is simply land that needs to be worked. What you bring to your work is what can make it beautiful.