At one of our recent LIFE groups the sentiment was expressed that somehow we need to make sure work does not get in the way of our life. It’s a familiar refrain, for all who feel as if work takes over the whole of their lives, robbing them of time with family, friends, social activities, involvement in church and generally getting in the way of things that we would far rather be getting on with. This is certainly true in the UK where, according to the Imagine project at LICC, we work on average 5 hours longer per person, per week than any other member country of the European Union. The aim would seem to be to work less so that we can live more, and there may be something to say in this, but perhaps not as much as we think.
It got me thinking – what is the implication in separating work from life? Are we not living when we are at work? The assumption is that somehow work is basically a functional thing that enables us to get on with doing the things that we are really put on God’s earth to do. That it is a second or third rate exercise that basically facilitates higher and more nobler purposes. Whilst there is little doubt that there is a functional element to work, providing us with material resources to pay for goods and services, and it certainly facilitates our capacity to pursue other interests, is that it? Is that the best we can hope for? Is that what God intended? This is both sociological and theological (but since God created society to begin with we cannot have one without the other). But thinking pragmatically first. Is it not an expression of the luxury of modern 21st century western living that we have ‘other interests’ to pursue? We have the luxury of leisure time. We have a leisure industry. We have the resources to have the holiday, to change the car, to upgrade the technology. We have television to watch, and teams to follow, both from the comfort of the armchair and at the stadium. We have our meetings and organisations, run by paid employees and volunteers who give of their ‘spare’ time, training and experience. We have all of these things in a way that the vast majority of humanity across time and place have never had. We don’t live literally off the earth (or at least we are far removed from the processes), and our daily bread is more or less taken care of. As per Maslow and his hierarchy of needs we have taken care of the basics and are on the path to self-actualisation, the pursuit of the real me, the real you. Interesting then that we have more people than ever in counselling and on medication, more relationships breaking up under the pressure of not looking like the dream, and more pressure on more parents than ever before to make this the ‘best Christmas ever…’, however that is priced and packaged.
Then there is the ever disturbing reality of those in our culture who do not have the luxury of leisure time. The redundant, the unemployed, the ever increasing number of students who cross the graduation stage – those 15 steps representing the apex of all their years of academic achievement, only to discover that the following September, they have nothing to do, and no label to wear with pride. As a friend who was made redundant twice said to me, when every day feels like Saturday you no longer have a Saturday. What is the message to those caught in such traps when those who are in work say they rather hope it will not get in the way of their lives?
A few years ago a church I worked in invited the African Children’s Choir to sing and a number of the kids were interviewed. For years now you see churches in the West have been sending money and teams over to build schools for such kids, to dig wells for villages, to help with irrigation and healthcare. Somehow helping the sewage system in Africa is part of our mission, imbued with meaning and purpose, saving lives and protecting the vulnerable. Meanwhile back home, working for the council means you’re only a number, collecting the rubbish is a dead end job. Heading to the office is the daily grind of running the rat race. Yet the choirs kids saw things differently. They talked about being teachers who could educate others, lawyers who could impact on justice, parents who could raise children, and as they spoke it struck me – we don’t need to get out of the rat race, we need to change the attitude of the rats. The Hebrew word avodah is transliterated as both work and worship in our English bibles. Maybe God doesn’t want us to get out of work so we can get on with our lives. Maybe He wants to put life in our work so that we worship our God…where are you working today, for that may just be your spiritual act of worship..