The Sanctity of Work

Laura and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary by taking two of our kids and their spouse/significant other to New Orleans. We lived there from 2001-2008, so we had a great time taking a walk down memory lane, seeing the typical tourist sites, and reconnecting with old friends. 


On our flight home, I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about jumping back in to work. Christmas break was over, and our longed-for trip to New Orleans was in the rear-view mirror. Would I fall into the post-vacation blues, or would I be the good, little dwarf whistling on my way to work and singing, “Hi, ho, hi, ho, it’s off to work I go”?


Surprising to me (and to Laura), the latter option overcome the former. After a slight adjustment to re-entry, I was (and am) good to go for the long haul. So, what happened? Why did I not have the typical (for me) work doldrums after the perfect get-a-way?


I’m slow on the uptake, but I think I was able to identify what’s going on. I’m beginning to understand the sanctity of work. Not to sound over spiritual, but the way we approach our work—volunteer or paid—determines the way we do our work. Our attitude flows out of our understanding, and our actions follow suite. 


If your understanding of work is that it is “meaningless, meaningless, all is meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 1:2), you will find no fulfillment in your employment. Your understanding—what you believe to be true regarding your job—will determine your attitude, which will manifest in your actions. Incorrect thinking leads to bad feeling which leads to poor action.


The flip side is true as well. If your understanding of work is that is a gift from God to liberate yourself from yourself, your attitude will be one of growth, determination, and joy, which will result in actions of hard work leading to deep sleep. “I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the Lord sustained me” (Psalm 3:5).


In Life Together, the great German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer gives a penetrating insight on the sanctity of work. He writes, “In work the Christian learns to allow himself to be limited by the task, and thus for him the work becomes a remedy against the indolence and sloth of the flesh. . . . God, who bids him work, makes that work a means of liberation from himself” (70).


Since most of us must work, finding a reason “why” is not an insignificant quest. To draw a salary may motivate us to a degree, but to discover liberation from the indolence and sloth we often find within ourselves motivates us for life. As Brother Lawrence wrote, “Whether I’m the cathedral singing praises to God or in the kitchen washing dishes, I can practice the presence of God” (The Practice of the Presence of God).


I pray that whether you are full-time, part-time, or on retirement-time, you will find joy and fulfillment in what you do based on your discovery of why you do it. Since we “go out to our work and to our labor until the evening” (Psalm 104:23), we might as well find a good reason why.