When I was a kid, I had no idea what Labor Day was about. It didn’t really matter. A day off of school was a day off of school. Pretty interesting that we have a day to celebrate work (and that we celebrate work by taking a day off).
The Value of Work
We often talk, in our culture, about a work-home balance. By which we mean, spending an appropriate amount of time in each arena. We talk about the meaning of life and the value of our time with our families. Work becomes a means to these ends. We work to obtain the resources in order to get what we need for a meaningful life.
We don’t often talk about the meaning of work. And we don’t often use conversations about work-home balance to encourage us to be at the office more. For many, work is a necessary evil. Or, at the very least, a necessary obligation. We dream of days of retirement, when this necessary obligation is laid to rest.
My parents recently retired and, like all retirees, they are struggling to maintain a sense of purpose. Work, then, was a part of their meaningful life. Not just a stuffy obligation. It, like home and vacation and free time and everything else, was a significant and valuable aspect of their existence.
The Meaning of Work
We think of work as obligation for one very simple reason. It takes effort. It hurts. The whole idea of work is based on the concept of sacrifice. It costs us something.
And we don’t like that. In our increasing obsession with ease and comfort, the very idea of work is an obstacle that needs to be overcome or avoided.
We take this line of reasoning to our own peril.
Work is one of the ways in which we contribute to our communities. We are serving others by our work. The effort we expend is not just wasted. It is transferred to others.
Not only that, work is one of the ways in which we display our character. The very core of who we are requires action. Love is not content being a concept, nor a set of words. It needs to be displayed. It needs to be activated. Everything of purpose in our lives works the same way. Our passion, skill, and heart comes out in what we do.
Now, some of you at this point are recognizing that there are totally different kinds of jobs. A person who is a poet, for example, recognizes all of this innately. A school teacher might be able to see how they are using their passion to serve their community. But a banker? A plumber? A cashier?
It really is no different. What we do is an extension of who we are. And there is not greater value in being someone who speaks well, versus someone who works with their hands, or someone who can help others figure out solutions to their problems.
All of our work is open to the same set of temptations: we can make an idol out of it, we can ignore it/take it for granted, or we can be lukewarm about it. And all of our work is open to the same opportunity to perceive – seeing work as valuable, as a way to express who we are, and as an opportunity to serve others.
I would go as far as to say this: if we continue to perceive work as a means to an end, we will never get to that end. Because the problem is structural; it is an error of perception. We can only find purpose in our vacationing, our home life, and our retirement, if we can also find purpose in our work. There is not one arena that magically unlocks meaning in our lives. The magic is in perceiving the true value of all arenas, transforming our focus and our attitude.
Victorious living requires a true perspective around home, rest, and work. The effort of our endeavors surely costs us something, but what it gains far outweighs the sacrifice.
And that is something worth celebrating.