Work: Beyond Necessity and Expression to Community

By David Williamson.

This is the second of a series.

O God, the creator and preserver of all mankind, we humbly beseech thee for all sorts and conditions of men; that thou would be pleased to make thy ways known unto them, thy saving health unto all nations. More especially we pray for the holy church universal, that a it may be so guided and governed by thy good Spirit, that all who profess and call themselves Christians may be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace and in righteousness of life. Finally we commend to thy fatherly goodness all those who in any ways are afflicted or distressed.

Prayer for “All sorts and conditions of Men” in the Book of Common Prayer

This anticipates “The Contours of Calling” in Bik and Duffey’s book, Make Your Job a Calling. Bik and Duffey state that we can approach our work as a necessity – and even in one sense as consequence of the Fall, namely the consequence of Adam’s sin that we need to work “by the sweat of the brow.” That work is a job, a form of personal survival. We must work to provide the means for survival; we have to have a job to earn the money to feed, shelter and clothe our families. A form of necessary evil – not necessarily a gracious means of satisfying a foundational personal human potential.

For some, though, jobs can be that. Work in this way is a form of self-expression. Success is more related to intrinsic value and self-fulfillment than pay level or position. With this orientation, we work to express our capabilities, our talents, our sense of self or distinctiveness. Self-fulfillment is the reward more than finances.

It is sad for me to see so many people who work full time, with demanding hours, to take care of basic needs and miss the joy of fulfilling a more intrinsic needs – miss how their particular work connects to the needs of the larger community/world in addition to their own survival. There is, I think, something rewarding and personally beneficial in doing work that others value and which contributes in some way to the needs of the larger community or society. There is joy and satisfaction in working to supply some of the community’s needs, healthy, legitimate desires, beyond my own survival needs.

There is in this understanding a view of community wellbeing as well as a unique personal wellbeing connected to my work, and implied by it. Dik and Duffey’s work suggests that this is relatively rare. It is not the normal or usual experience of workers.

Better still is the connection of work to “calling,” so I can see my job as answering a call. A “calling” suggests that I can see my work as part of the fabric of the larger community/society, indeed the greater or common good. I think this is the intention of God in the creation narratives, his purpose in creating humans in the imago Dei and folding us as “ordinary” workers into his plan and purpose in creation.

Dik and Duffey indicate that the career psychology of vocation scholars can identify additional understandings or orientations to work. They agree with Robert Bellah that most of us combine two or more of these orientations, sometimes in ways that are unique or that fit cultural/community norms and expectations. I think of my dad, who worked meet basic survival needs in one of the only jobs available in his community, and eventually became a widely recognized metallurgist. Necessary survival work became a calling for him.

The basic question for each of us is whether this gives a sufficiently comprehensive overview of work to be personally satisfying. Collectively, the question is whether it is adequate to work together for a well ordered and mutually beneficial society/community/world.

This leads me to the kind of dependence on God expressed in the prayer at the beginning of this article, taken from the Book of Common Prayer. It takes us out of the need to play God, and living for the benefit of the “beast” – the foolish and impossible burden of trying to be God. It leads us to embark upon the journey and explore how my work can indeed be a fulfilling and meaningful calling, not itself the ultimate call, but leading me to that ultimate call.

Dik and Duffey reference Martin Luther’s personal dilemma as the source of his explicitly Christian resolution of the human dilemma. He sought to remove the sacred/secular divide and the use of works righteousness as a way of pleasing God in favor of a third way, that all work can indeed be spiritual work and not “necessary evil” work. For Luther, good work was an expression or extension of gratitude to God for our righteousness based on God’s grace, rather than the mere accumulation of God’s blessing.

This points to work and the proper self-expression of our work. All morally legitimate work is God’s work and we can do it as a self-expression of our gratitude to God for what God has already done. Our work can then be a calling that we live, and not only an expression of gratitude for God’s good work but in one sense an extension of that good work. God has already done this for us. He now can do it through us as well.

Bik and Duffey suggest that we can look at our gifts and talents to understand how best to honor God and serve the common good. The question then remains for each of us: “Why do I/you/we work?” Bik and Duffey’ research suggests that those of us who have this understanding of work, as a calling, are more satisfied with their jobs and more satisfied with life generally. Win-win!

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