On the Meaning of Work

My old friend, who is passing through New Jersey on his way to Virginia to visit his grown children, told me at dinner the other night that he plans to build his daughter and son-in-law a work bench in their garage and a cabinet for their TV.

My friend is retired. And has been in retirement for years since leaving AT&T after a long career.

I’m often amazed at the industriousness of some retirees!

For my friend, these projects he will undertake are not “work.” To be sure, these projects will require planning, measurement, and skillful execution. But they are not a drudgery for him. In fact, he looks forward to them with great anticipation and can’t wait to see the delight on his kids’ faces when they behold the final result. For him, this work is a pleasure.

Have you ever felt that way about your work?

What is it, sometimes, about work that doesn’t feel like work? Recently at my church, St. Matthias in central New Jersey, we explored this question.

Our Employment Ministry sponsored a work-life retreat, focused on the meaning of work in our lives. Throughout the day of reflection, several speakers talked about the joys and struggles of their working lives. Here are a few of the themes that emerged on the mystery when work doesn’t feel like work.

When it’s selfless – When we do some work that is done for the benefit of others, we realize a deep spiritual truth about Life, namely that work can be a source of joy. The theologian Richard Rohr puts it this way: “Your life is not about you. You are about life!” My woodworking friend loves to build things for others, especially for his family. When work comes from the heart, work becomes an act of love.

When it expresses your gifts – Each of us is blessed with gifts, talents and capabilities. The things we are very good at, in other words. When we use those gifts in the work we are doing, we are expressing Who We Truly Are and What We Are Meant to Bring to the World. No matter what the work may be, even the most humble and thankless task.

I’m convinced that each of us is here in this world to do some work that we are called to do. What that is is something each person must find out for him- or herself. But, through my work as a career coach, I know that many never do. They never find that deep inner answer, that sense of true personal satisfaction, that comes from doing the work they were meant to do. It’s sad.

But, like many career coaches who are busy helping others these days, I’m committed to helping job seekers and career changers who are on this quest for deeper meaning. That’s one of the aims of the St. Matthias Employment Ministry. As well as the Heart of Meaningful Work, a social network I started that resides within LinkedIn.

When you look up the origins of the word “work,” you’ll find that it is an ancient word indeed, one whose roots stretch very far back in time. People have been working for longer than anyone can reckon. One might ask, Where is it getting us?

One of the speakers at our retreat offered an answer worth pondering. She said that, after God created all things, he then said to Man and Woman that it was now their responsibility to continue the work that He had started. Think about that for a few moments. Our work, to continue the process of creation, is a sacred trust with the Creator, a covenant to continue the work of God who created all things.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Sunday December 5, 2010. For more ideas on the meaning of work, contact Terry and invite him to speak to your group.

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