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.
I'm not saying Christians should be workaholics. I'm a big believer in working smarter, not harder. What are other ways you can invest in your job? Try to gain a better understanding of how your company produces value and where your job fits in that process. Then do everything you can to improve that relationship between your job and the company's value chain. Often I see folks working in a department of an organization that have no interest in understanding how their department serves the needs of the larger organization. It doesn't take much more time to change this. It takes more attentiveness and care. These are things that we can give to our work starting today.
I is for "imagine." Your work today is probably not a beautiful garden. At best it is an empty field. And there is probably some garbage that needs to be cleared out before you can even get started with the hard work of creating something beautiful in your work. This is why imagination is so important. You have to have a vision for what your work could look like. I have a couple hints for doing this effectively.
Write a brief description of the future of your work. This can be a short paragraph or just some keywords, but it should clearly illustrate how you want your work to look in the future.
Outline two or three things you need to do today to move towards that goal. Don't make this list long. You'll get overwhelmed. Make small incremental changes. Tell a friend at work or an accountability partner about your goals and ask them to follow up with you in a month to see if you are sticking with it.
F is for "follow-up." Follow-up is so important. Everyone wants to be in better shape. So why aren't we surrounded by Olympians? Because a couple days into that new exercise program we decide that the work required to change is too hard or we don't have time for it.
The same concept is true at work. You've probably been a part of a lot of corporate initiatives that kicked off with huge fan fair and were non-existent by the end of the quarter. So make sure the few goals you set are things you can do easily, every day. They have to be easy or you will stop doing them. They have to happen every day or you they won't make much difference.
T is for "train others." It is impossible to give yourself to work and not give yourself to others. As you become more passionate about your work, people will take notice. Some will ask what you are doing. Others will just watch. Begin to develop informal ways to train the people around you. Often this is as easy as sharing a new idea at the water cooler or during a weekly staff meeting. For some it will be more explicit in the form of professional development.
I think that this applies to all of us equally regardless of employment status or the status of our employment. All jobs are important. The factory worker and the pastor have the same invitation: plant a beautiful garden where you are. Remind the world that our God is in the business of making beautiful things. And attempt to join him in that work every day.
Lane Severson is a Practice Leader for Doculabs and a freelance writer living near Chicago, Illinois.
Copyright © 2014 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
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