Workaholicism v. vocation
Problem with idols is they don’t help you serve them. “Must… work… harder!”
What is workaholicism? Work at the expense of health and good... physical, mental, spiritual, relational.
Why do we overwork? In general, because work is a good. It's satisfying to exert force x distance. We like to order, create, and... stuff. Rest is sweeter. Food is more appreciated. The paycheck is affirming. We are of worth to others, obviously, because they give us money for what we do. That's not insignificant to us homo sapiens. Maybe that tie in to worth has a lot to do with why we end up working too much. We get a little intense, obsessive, sacrificial. Maybe we have to do so to keep our job, to get a better one, or to keep up with our coworkers. Nothing like a high achieving coworker to light a fire under us.
Chesterton: that fierce loyalty of women, instead of being applied to a pretty much helpless child and the fragile familial bond, is applied to a firm, an office, a spreadsheet. That sacrificial love that brings unreasoning infants to become firm, critical thinking and principled men is applied to to-do lists and memos from the boss.
Thesis: Unless your job is advancing the Kingdom of Heaven, your need to sacrifice for it is questionable.
By “questionable,” I do not mean “wrong.” I mean, you ought to question it and come to some sort of calculus/ philosophy to guide your commitment to it.
1) Sometimes making a living is hard and requires a lot. Maybe you will have to contribute almost all of your energy and health just to putting food on the table. However, there is a large difference between putting food on the table and keeping up with the Joneses (no offense, Joneses). I feel this is an old idea, (all the more why I should repeat it) but we need wisdom to figure out, “What’s the threshold where I can still have a profitable job that’s meets needs/ provides extras WITHOUT sacrificing my energy and excessive time to it?”
2) Hopefully, our job does serve our fellow men in some way, shape, or form. If it does not really better others, and we can find a job that does and still pays our necessary bills (is emphasis on “necessary” overkill?), we probably ought to switch. From where I sit, more discretionary income WILL NOT compensate for meaningless (sorry for my bluntness) work. By serve, I mean, helping humans to live as image bearers (thinking, just, relational, creative) of God, whether they realize it or not, provide for real human needs (distributing the provision of God, promoting a healthy society), or promote the values of God (justice, mercy, redemption) to make His Kingdom more realistic to our fellow men. Trash pick up, sure. Advertising, not so much. (This is not to say that, for example, an otherwise “meaningless” job in advertising can’t be good if 1) it is inevitable, and 2) it is exploited for other higher priorities. These are meant for consideration, not condemnations. Input would be appreciated.) But, for goodness’ sake, YOLO! How do you want to spend your one and only life?! Meaning trumps money. Service is more important that status. People are eternal, society is not. “Seeing that all these things will be burned, how ought we to live?” “The visible things will perish, but the invisible things are eternal.”
3) So, given that our jobs serve our fellow men, how much ought we give them? Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize. I don’t think I’m wrong by saying: 1) family, 2) brethren, 3) needy. Pretty much clear cut if we’re talking about the same need for the three. Now, things get tricky when we start dealing with triage: an urgent need of the needy (eg: for counsel) versus relational needs of our family (eg: to attend a family member’s achievement ceremony). I dunno how to deal with those issues. A lot of times, hopefully, one can compensate family’s “lesser” need at other times and “leave not the rest undone.” (One issue that challenges me is the value of creating a family at all versus the value of caring for those who have no family, but most peoples’ life circumstances make that question moot.) Competing values need more input than our own. We need wisdom from on high delivered throughout the ages and applied by the wise and godly around us in real time. May God give us the wisdom we need!
3) Vocation: how to love/serve God and our fellow men. Sometimes we get paid for it; often we do not. As Eve Tushnet stunningly wrote, it’s basically what the “single” era of our life ought to be about discovering. It is relational, self-giving, God-inspired, and thus, ought to be joyful. Each person ought to ask: How can/should I minister God to others via myself? For most, their families (parenthood) will be their main vocations. Their churches and neighbors ought to be considered “extended family.”
The beautiful thing? Since “others” are pretty much everywhere, and God definitely is, one can be fulfilling vocation just as much by being full of life in a wheelchair in a nursing home as by being a heart surgeon in Africa. God is great. People are everywhere. Christ is enough. The Holy Spirit is very creative and unconcerned with glamour.
thought three: sources
Eve Tushnet: Breaking the Rules
Marvin Olasky: How to decide to move
a) Where can I be most useful to the Kingdom of God?
b) Where will I be most challenged to live and think as becomes a follower of Christ?
c) What will I love doing?
Leah Libresco, The Sad Secular Monks in First Things' On the Square:
There’s a word for people who turn over their entire waking life to one cause, and willingly sacrifice the possibility of a family for the opportunity to serve: monks (or, more archaically, oblates). Just like the driven twenty-somethings of Rosin’s article, monks and nuns have made a commitment so total that it precludes marriage. But in the case of vowed religious, the form of their service is meant to be elevating, not just useful. I seldom hear people claim that spreadsheets are good for the soul. Even for people doing high intensity work for the public good (the teachers, the social workers, the public interest lawyers, etc.), the form of their work may still be deadening.Most careers aren’t vocations, so we need space outside them to grow and love. It’s possible to make a short-term decision to put life and relationships on hold, in order to make a high-intensity commitment to a cause (this is the model for the oft-touted national service draft), but it’s unhealthy to let these crisis-mode jobs give shape to your life.….
from her blog entry: What good is sitting alone at your desk?
So, although you may carve out time for people you have an obvious obligation to (family and work), weak connections of friendship and proximity get neglected. With fewer non-job connections, you may experience evaporative cooling of beliefs (including the belief that this is a natural work schedule!). There’s less cross-talk to push your ideas and philosophy, less chance of correcting errors, and less chance of inspiration.***
Tim Keller on work