Earlier in this century, someone claimed that we work at our play and play at our work. Today the confusion has deepened: we worship our work, work at our play, and play at our worship.
—Leland Ryken, author and Wheaton College professor
I have grown up and grown old with Madonna, and I have always been fascinated by her ability to reinvent herself in world that, as a whole, is incredibly resistant to change. In an interview with Vogue magazine, Madonna said, “This is what my music is about…every time I accomplish something great, I feel like a special human being, but after a little while, I feel mediocre and uninteresting again, and I find I have to get past this again and again. My drive in life is from the horrible fear of being mediocre, and I have to prove to myself and to others that I am somebody.” Madonna’s work is not just about work; it’s about her. It’s about self-promotion, self-provision, self-fulfillment, or self-justification.
She is looking for something in her work that she will never find—at least not in a permanent sense. Because she is looking for something only God can give us. The knowledge that we are special and unique and precious, not because of what we do but because of whose we are.
It is a mistake that many of us are making at increasingly alarming rates. We look to our work—be it as a student, a parent, a volunteer, a butcher, a baker or a candlestick maker—to give ourselves an identity and to justify our existence. And because what we do, what we achieve, what position we hold will never be enough in itself to bring meaning to our lives, we can never get to the place we need to be. We over work. We are stressed. We are anxious. We are afraid.
And on the flip side, if our work means nothing, if it is just a means to an end, just a paycheck, just a way of paying the bills, then there is no meaning and no joy.
So if Madonna can help us clarify the problem, perhaps we could look to Jesus for a solution? Um, except for the fact that there is no Biblical record of Jesus ever actually holding down a job. Seriously. We call him a carpenter, but there is no verse about Jesus building a house or a barn or even a hut. There’s certainly no record of him taking bids for jobs or building a house on spec.
He was a teacher and a doctor. He was a storyteller and a weather predictor. He was a food distributor and a litigator. And some claim he was a bellhop because he was always taking people’s baggage. Work for Jesus was indeed a gracious expression of creative energy in service to others.
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart in service to the Lord. We can take our faith to work. And we can continue to be teachers and nurses and lawyers and social workers and ditch diggers and builders with the realization that our work has value, not because it contributes to our own wellbeing—but because it contributes to somebody else. We can take our faith to work, realizing that making a life is far more significant than making a living.
–REv. Anne Russ