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Work: a Blessing or a Curse?

Work: a Blessing or a Curse?

David Jeng—St. Louis, Missouri, USA

Recently in my work group we held a special meeting. Another group within our department was having difficulty, and since we were a high performing group, we were asked to rotate several of our engineers over to support their troubled program.

Our managers bluntly explained that whoever volunteered to rotate over to that program would likely face overtime and a potentially stressful environment. They were expected to immediately contribute to the program with little or no training.

Rumors described a bleak work environment where jaded coworkers toiled under poor management. Repeated failures had further decimated what little morale that remained. The only incentive was that since the department head would have direct oversight of the project, workers would have higher visibility to upper management. Given such dismal terms, I wasn’t expecting anybody to volunteer. To my surprise, those positions were quickly filled.

Why would anybody willingly dive into a failed program and subject themselves to high stress and long hours?

THE TWO FATES OF WORK

Solomon, in his wisdom, spoke about two fates of all who work: a blessing and a curse.

A Curse

The Preacher reflects,

            For what has man for all his labor, and for the striving of his heart with which he has toiled under the sun? For all his days are sorrowful, and his work burdensome; even in the night his heart takes no rest. This also is vanity. (Eccl 2:22, 23).

We live in a society that has been ruthlessly pushing for greater productivity. Gone are the days where the 40-hour week is viewed as standard. Today, 50 to 60 hours per week is the norm in most industries.

Now thanks to our digital leash, we enjoy 24/7 connectivity to the office. We can reply to company emails and work in our virtual office even from the comforts of our home. Only with great reluctance are we able to temporarily suspend our cell phones or Blackberry devices. Even so, we find ourselves fidgeting during that brief duration of our flight.

Let us step back for a moment and try to make sense of this work-frenzied phenomenon.

Why do we work so hard? Surely we can blame society for at least part of our misery. After all, we are pressured to work overtime in order to survive in this competitive world. Very few of us obey the 40-hour limit or control “when” or “how long” we work.

Under these circumstances, work can indeed seem like a curse. Not only does it burden us with stress and fatigue during the day, it also creeps into our nights to rob us of precious sleep. Worse yet, the result of our sweat and blood may simply be a pink slip (or if we own our business, having to declare Chapter 11).

A Blessing

Fortunately, not all work is doom and gloom. Solomon also writes of the blessing of work. God allows one to “enjoy the good of all his labor in which he toils under the sun all the days of his life which God gives him” (Eccl 5:18). It is a “gift of God” and a life of purpose, for “he will not dwell unduly on the days of his life, because God keeps him busy with the joy of his heart” (Eccl 5:19, 20).

There are many wonderful ways we can enjoy work. The most basic perk work offers is that it allows us to sustain ourselves. There are mouths to feed and bills to pay. Groceries, rent, and gas, are only some of the basic expenses required of us to survive in this world. Work serves as a means for us to acquire the money needed to provide for our basic necessities in life.

For others, work offers more than just money. Our occupation shapes both how others see us and how we see ourselves. Aside from offering an identity and status in society, sometimes it instills a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment.

Whether they are teachers, scientists, custodians, or waiters, there are people of every profession who are able to look beyond their jobs to see a hope to create a better community, country, or humanity. They share the vision of a better world.

HOW TO ACHIEVE A BLESSED CAREER

Work is very much a part of our life in this world. When does work become overwork? When does enthusiasm, dedication, and a sense of responsibility become a destructive force that hinders our spiritual, physical, social, and emotional well-being?

Let’s examine how God had intended for us to work in this world so that we can turn this curse into a blessing and achieve a blessed career.

Reserve Time for Rest

Ecclesiastes chapter 3 tells us that there is a time for everything:

            A time to plant, and a time to pluck what is planted;

            A time to kill, and a time to heal;

            A time to gain, and a time to lose.

In our rush to reach our goals or build up our careers, we may have forgotten that God has also given us a time for rest. It is this rest that is increasingly taken away from us by the changing workplace.

There is a fundamental shift in the workplace supporting long and irregular workdays. From free soft drinks and ping-pong tables to more lavish treatments such as free meals and pet care, many companies entice young professionals to work longer hours at the office.

Equally significant is the advent of the virtual office in the context of globalization. One may be expected to coordinate time zone differences not only between the West Coast and East Coast, but also that of Bangalore, Moscow, or London. Robbed of continuous blocks of rest, we are forced to rely on short power naps and caffeinated drinks to overcome our bodies’ natural crave for rest.

Studies have shown that in addition to a drastic reduction in alertness,1 sleep deprivation also reduces memory and learning functions.2 According to sleep researchers, when you get less sleep than what your body naturally needs, you incur a debt that must be repaid.3 Whether you like it or not, you will repay that sleep.

We do need to work enough to earn our daily needs, but there are only so many things we can do in a day before we run out of energy. Rest is essential to our overall well-being. Even though the bulk of our time and energy per day may be sold to the company, we must not forget that life is more than the collection of manna.

We need to recognize the importance of rest and allocate time for it. The financial advice for reducing debt, “pay yourself first” applies to rest as well. When we have blocks of free time, we need to set the proper limits and make sure our body gets the rest it needs.

Don’t Chase After the Wind

King Solomon attained wisdom and understanding unsurpassed by mortals. He amassed great fortunes and a name that lasted throughout history. He constructed great waterways and pools, planted beautiful vineyards, orchards, and gardens, and built magnificent houses. In his lifetime, he achieved many times over what one would be proud to have accomplished in one’s life.

But despite all his success, King Solomon’s conclusion was that life without God is meaningless and empty. In other words, no matter how great our accomplishments are in this world, they are meaningless when our lives are not centered on God.

In our lives, it is sometimes so easy to lose focus of our purpose. Like Solomon, we may find ourselves unwittingly chasing after the wind.

We see others around us toiling endlessly in pursuit of a better life. People then work even harder to maintain that new standard of living. To safeguard against disasters that may take their hard-earned life away, they must work even harder.

If we follow their footsteps, we may be like the pitiful rich man who lost his focus in life (Lk 12:16-21). When God blessed him so that the ground in which he labored yielded abundantly, he focused all his time and energy coming up with a plan so that he would retire in luxury. All his toil was in vain when his life ended.

Manage Your Investments Wisely

When tending to the needs of our faith, family, and career, we are often encouraged to model our priorities after the patriarchs. Whenever Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob moved to a new location, they would always first build an altar to worship God, set up the tents for their family, and finally dig a well to provide for their livestock. While they also faced many daily challenges in confronting the competing demands of life, they were able to find a proper balance.

How we manage these three aspects of life is like managing three fields we own—each requiring our labors to till, sow, weed, and harvest. While working hard to invest in your work may yield an abundant harvest of riches and success, this comes at the price of having abandoned fields of overgrown weeds for your family and your faith.

The goals we invest the most time and energy in should be tied to the potential returns: the necessities for life, a healthy body, a close-knit network of friends, a loving family, and our salvation in eternity.

Just as no amount of money can buy back the love and affection of a child who grew up with an absent parent, no amount of love and affection for our loved ones can give them that inner peace and eternal hope. We must choose carefully how much time we invest working in each field. The most rewarding one, of course, will be that field containing the hidden treasure of eternal life.

If we define clear and manageable goals in our faith, family, and career and allot the time and energy to achieve them according to their relative priority, we can reap the abundant harvest of a long-lasting, far-reaching, and much more meaningful existence.

Our faith, family, and career are all aspects of our life that need time and care. Like the legs of a tripod, focusing solely on one aspect will lead to an unbalanced life that could easily topple.

Invest in the Imperishable

When investing, we try to maximize our return on investment. We expect that, at the very least, our returns will surpass the rate of inflation.

Similarly, in our career, we expect to receive raises and promotions on a regular basis, but we also seek to maximize our advancement. We work hard and pursue advanced degrees, retrain for certificates, and keep up with the latest technology. We go to conferences or business socials to try to get more visibility with the executives—all in hopes of advancing our careers.

In the same way, we should also make goals for our faith and family and hold them to the same level of expectation and ambition as we would in our career or financial goals.

Perhaps we can spend a little more time on our health or seek to get in touch with some long neglected friends and family. Or perhaps we aim to build up and train ourselves in specific tasks so that we can work for the Lord. Maybe our goal is to simply advance our spirituality each year.

My coworkers were willing to volunteer themselves into such a bleak working environment because they valued the opportunity as a stepping-stone to success. Even though it may cost them time for family, friends, and faith, they were willing to invest in this venture.

If others are eager to sacrifice so much for such a tiny hope of greater things to come, shouldn’t we, who possess the precious promise of God, invest heavily in the greatest part of our existence?

HEAR THE HIGHER CALLING

Mother Theresa dedicated her life to helping others. However, she saw helping orphans as more than just social work—she saw it as a calling from God. We help those around us not just to help others, but most of all to glorify the Lord.

As Christians, we too are determined to make a positive difference in the world around us. As the ambassadors of our faith, we have the responsibility to exemplify our faith. However, our mission and calling encompasses and surpasses the vision of simply improving humanity.

Even though our job descriptions may seem to be a far cry from the work entrusted by our Lord—to feed His sheep and preach the word of God to the ends of the earth—it is an opportunity given to us by God to do His will.

We are placed in our workplaces to illuminate our environments and season those around us. While we exert ourselves in the business of each day, we must ask ourselves: Have we glorified God in our workplace today?

1.        Thomas M,  Sing H, Belenky G, Holcomb H, Mayberg H, Dannals R, Wagner H Jr., Thorne D, Popp K, Rowland L, Welsh A, Balwinski S, Redmond D. Neural basis of alertness and cognitive performance impairments during sleepiness. I. Effects of 24 h of sleep deprivation on waking human regional brain activity. Journal of Sleep Research. 2000;9(4):335-352.

2.        Stickgold R, James L, Hobson JA. Visual discrimination learning requires sleep after training. Nature Neuroscience. 2000;3(12):1237-1238.

3.        Van Dongen HP, Maislin G, Mullington JM, Dinges DF. The cumulative cost of additional wakefulness: dose-response effects on neurobehavioral functions and sleep physiology from chronic sleep restriction and total sleep deprivation. Sleep. 2003 Mar 15;26(2):117-26.

 

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