The blogger who goes by the name of Josephus Flavius quotes the 20th century Orthodox saint St. Nikolai of Žiča writing to a railroad engineer who complained about his boring job. He was writing about vocation and how seeing one’s work in relation to faith can transfigure its meaning:
You complain that you are tired of your job. All other activities seem more interesting to you, and you, and you are troubled and anguished about not being able to find something better. I thought about this for a long time before picking up my pen to answer you.
I tried to put my self in your place, and to play your part. I imagined myself at your worksite, in the locomotive car, in the midst of the roar of the machine and the pounding of the wheels. Sweaty, covered in soot, I cheerfully looked ahead. Behind me was arrayed an entire little people: old people, parents and children, nobility, diplomats, officials, peasants, workers, and day laborers.
They had all been thrown together by circumstance, and they all depended on me. Some talked among themselves and some were lost in thought, but each was mentally striving to get to his final destination. Whether he gets to that station depends on me, and I depend only on God.
The passengers could not even imagine how much they depended on me. They were not thinking of me – they didn’t even know me. And that is precisely what made me happy.
When the train was ready to move, no one came to look at me, or to make my acquaintance. No one asked, “Is our engineer crazy? Is he intoxicated? Is he blind? After all, we have entrusted him with our lives! He is the most important person in the galloping city of which we have become residents for a time.” Such thoughts did not even occur to them, and that made me immeasurably happy.
It makes me happy that so many people without even a glance entrusted their lives to me, to me, a stranger hidden in the heart of the locomotive. Trembling with joy, I began to thank the Lord: – O great and wondrous God! Glory and praise to Thee, for giving me life, and intellect, and such an important job!
You gave me a task very much like Thy work, o God. After all, Thou o Lord, hidden, invisible and unknown, operate the machine of the world with Thine Holy Spirit. It is enormous, Thy passengers are without number. Thou art the [locomotive] Engineer for the entire world. Many, many travelers do not even think about Thee, do not consider the Mystery of Thine existence, but with trust sit down in Thy train and go, and go.
And that most gladden Thee, immeasurably gladden Thee. Thou knowest where to grant rest to Thy passengers, where to feed them, and whom to discharge, and where. Frankly, they know little about the remarkable final destination toward which Thy marvelous train is moving, but they trustingly enter, trustingly travel, and trustingly alight. They put their trust in Thee, to the hidden, invisible, unknowable!
I thank Thee a thousand times and bow before Thee, my All-seeing and All-powerful Creator and Engineer. In all of the dangers threatening this my journey, I place my hope in Thee alone. Only Thou canst help me bring it to its final destination without losing any of my passengers.
My young friend, what better job are you seeking? Is there any other better than yours? The Apostle Peter was a fisherman, and the Apostle Paul wove mats. Consider how much more important and interesting your job is than theirs, and thank Providence Who entrusted you with such an occupation.
Wishing you health, and may the blessings of the Lord be upon you!
– Missionary Letters of St. Nikolai of Žiča, “About a boring job”
It has been said that boredom is the great spiritual disease of our time, a kind of spiritual sloth that destroys marriages, work, and happiness itself. Chesterton said that there is no such thing as a boring subject; all there can be is a bored person, someone without the imagination and insight to appreciate the moment and to find joy in the simplest existence.
“Boring” was the “B-word” in our household, a word I would not permit my children to say without getting a lecture about Chesterton.
HT: Joe Carter