A few weeks ago, a Facebook post – I think it was Ken (Rock Star) Sullivan – caught my attention. The question was essentially that if you were not sure God called you to do it, could you quit a “ministry position” and work a “regular” job? And if so, would you feel this was still a “holy” thing to do?
The question struck me because it is something I would wholeheartedly say “yes” to on both accounts, but having grown up in the church, I understand that many would not see it this way … which has always struck me as odd.
Anyway, with that background in mind, I came across a lovely essay by a lady named Dorothy Sayers titled “Why Work?” and wanted to share some of the very profound things she had to say. (To read the entire article, click here.)
She starts by discussing our modern economy and how it is built on manufacturing waste and convincing people they need to purchase it. (This remains remarkably relevant given she wrote this during WW2):
A society in which consumption has to be artificially stimulated in order to keep production going is a society founded on trash and waste, and such a society is a house built upon sand … the consumer – that is, you and I, including the workers, who are consumers also – will again be urged to consume and waste; and unless we change our attitude … we shall again be bamboozled by our vanity, indolence, and greed into keeping the squirrel cage of wasteful economy turning.
She then turns to discuss the core of her argument that we have somehow exchanged a “godlike” idea of work for the purpose of bringing something good into the world for a view of work as something that must be done to earn a living.
The habit of thinking about work as something one does to make money is so ingrained in us that we can scarcely imagine what a revolutionary change it would be to think about it instead in terms of the work done. To do so would mean taking the attitude of mind we reserve for our unpaid work – our hobbies, our leisure interests, the things we make and do for pleasure – and making that the standard of all our judgments about things and people. We should ask of an enterprise, not “will it pay?” but “is it good?”; of a man, not “what does he make?” but “what is his work worth?”; of goods, not “Can we induce people to buy them?” but “are they useful things well made?”; of employment, not “how much a week?” but “will it exercise my faculties to the utmost?” And shareholders in – let us say – brewing companies, would astonish the directorate by arising at shareholders’ meeting and demanding to know, not merely where the profits go or what dividends are to be paid, not even merely whether the workers’ wages are sufficient and the conditions of labor satisfactory, but loudly and with a proper sense of personal responsibility: “What goes into the beer?”
… a man will put loving labor into some hobby which can never bring him any economically adequate return. His satisfaction comes, in the godlike manner, from looking upon what he has made and finding it very good. He is no longer bargaining with his work, but serving it. It is only when work has to be looked on as a means to gain that it becomes hateful; for then, instead of a friend, it becomes an enemy from whom tolls and contributions have to be extracted. What most of us demand from society is that we should always get out of it a little more than the value of the labor we give to it. By this process, we persuade ourselves that society is always in our debt – a conviction that not only piles up actual financial burdens, but leaves us with a grudge against society … The greatest insult which a commercial age has offered to the worker has been to rob him of all interest in the end product of the work and to force him to dedicate his life to making badly things which were not worth making.
She then concludes by addressing how the Church (“Her/She” in the quotes below) has failed to recognize the importance of secular professions and what a proper Christ-like viewpoint might look like:
It is the business of the Church to recognize that the secular vocation, as such, is sacred. Christian people, and particularly perhaps the Christian clergy, must get it firmly into their heads that when a man or woman is called to a particular job of secular work, that is as true a vocation as though he or she were called to specifically religious work.
It is not right for Her to acquiesce in the notion that a man’s life is divided into the time he spends on his work and the time he spends in serving God. He must be able to serve God in his work, and the work itself must be accepted and respected as the medium of divine creation. In nothing has the Church so lost Her hold on reality as in Her failure to understand and respect the secular vocation. She has allowed work and religion to become separate departments, and is astonished to find that, as result, the secular work of the world is turned to purely selfish and destructive ends, and that the greater part of the world’s intelligent workers have become irreligious, or at least, uninterested in religion. But is it astonishing? How can any one remain interested in a religion which seems to have no concern with nine-tenths of his life? The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays. What the Church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables. Church by all means, and decent forms of amusement, certainly – but what use is all that if in the very center of his life and occupation he is insulting God with bad carpentry? No crooked table legs or ill-fitting drawers ever, I dare swear, came out of the carpenter’s shop at Nazareth. Nor, if they did, could anyone believe that they were made by the same hand that made Heaven and earth. No piety in the worker will compensate for work that is not true to itself; for any work that is untrue to its own technique is a living lie.
… She has lost all sense of the fact that the living and eternal truth is expressed in work only so far as that work is true in itself, to itself, to the standards of its own technique. She has forgotten that the secular vocation is sacred. Forgotten that a building must be good architecture before it can be a good church; that a painting must be well painted before it can be a good sacred picture; that work must be good work before it can call itself God’s work.
Let the Church remember this: that every maker and worker is called to serve God in his profession or trade – not outside it.
Where we have become confused is in mixing up the ends to which our work is put with the way in which the work is done. The end of the work will be decided by our religious outlook: as we are so we make. It is the business of religion to make us Christian people, and then our work will naturally be turned to Christian ends, because our work is the expression of ourselves. But the way in which the work is done is governed by no sanction except the good of the of work itself; and religion has no direct connection with that, except to insist that the workman should be free to do his work well according to its own integrity.
Food for thought – especially when you’re often stuck working in tasks that seem menial or monotonous. What if I thought of my work as infused with God’s glory and to be done for the sake of bringing something good into my world?
That’s a frightening thought when you have thought of work as something to get out of the way in order to enjoy “life” ….