I contributed this week’s ‘Connecting with Culture’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.
‘We may love our work, hate our work, find meaning in our work or none, but it’s what we do all day long, and it shapes us.’
So writes Joanna Biggs at the start of All Day Long: A Portrait of Britain at Work. It’s an enjoyably absorbing read, offering brief glimpses into the lives of 30 or so different people. So it is that we meet a pot-glazing supervisor from Stoke-on-Trent, a fishmonger from Belfast, a care worker from Newcastle, along with shoemakers, baristas, a stay-at-home mum, a goldsmith’s apprentice, a rabbi, and so on.
There are struggles – the baristas who lose their bonus if they don’t display ‘passion’, the cleaner who fights for a living wage, the legal aid lawyer who wrestles with budget cuts. Yet what also emerges is how hard people work even though they have seemingly little to show for it, how much satisfaction people get from working, and how (in many cases) such satisfaction is not dependent on the salary earned.
All this resonates with a Christian perspective. Work is part of our DNA, one of the ways we’re made to function as those created in the image of the God who designed work to be fulfilling not frustrating. But work – like all things – was impacted by human rebellion against God and alienation from each other. Here is a daily reminder that the world remains out of kilter with God’s design, where it’s possible to make too much or too little of work. So, for instance, we can succumb to idolatry, where our job becomes the primary object of our passions and source of identity. Or we can slide into idleness, unable to see God’s purposes in work or the value of work in and of itself.
Yet there is hope, for work is not just a way to pass time and make money, but a service we render to Christ himself (Colossians 3:23). Work is a crucible for discipleship, a place to grow as a follower of Jesus, even in the mundane tasks: writing an email, placing an order, servicing a boiler, tightening a bolt, changing a nappy. Seeing our work – paid or unpaid – as an arena to serve Christ won’t necessarily deal with all our frustrations, but it will put them in proper perspective as we take our place as God’s stewards in his ongoing governance of the world.