Don’t the U.S. indoctrinators make it seem like our jobs are central to our identity? With such an emphasis on making our identity based on how we make ends meet, I pity the millennials (of which I am one).
An op-ed in the New York Times reported that, by an large, millennials are getting paid less, by about $3500 annually, than they were just a few years ago. They’re even letting paid less than 50 years ago. But they are increasingly more educated. In the U.S., they are the most educated generation.
Tuition is going up and up in the United States. And so is debt. And the cost of living. A bad combo for millennials, who are less employed. They have more debt and less expendable income with jobs that pay less.
Less and less millennials are buying homes over the last ten years, but they are paying higher rents too.
So life is hard for millennials, especially when it comes to sustaining themselves, and so let’s think about jobs and their meaning. What do I do about my job? With Social Security shrinking, Congress hammering austerity politics that are killing Europe (Greece in particular), I am afraid the private and public sectors of the U.S. will not give us much hope. How does the church fit into this? How does it recreate the values that the American propagandists have kind of forced down our throats.
A few points from the Bible.
- The Bible and God through it, early on, gives us an idea about how we might relate to work. Though the anti-work movement is strong, and some Christians find some justification for their opposition in the creation story, if we actually look at the text, we get a much different image. God actually gives Adam and Eve responsibility to work and care for creation (Genesis 2:15). God himself works and deems his work very good atthe conclusion of his week of labor. The pain associated with workis connected to our sin, perhaps, but not work itself. It’s not a punishment.In the U.S., we have a stark contrast between work and play. We are taught to hate work (especially if we aren’t the boss), and kind of live for the weekend. Life is more complicated than that, especially when we factor in our mobile offices (smart phones). Moreover, not everything is so easily categorized in those neat categories; for example, spiritual lives and service to the church or the hard parts of being in community or relationships. It becomes a bit harder to just separate our life out into hating work and loving fun, or something.
We actually are purposed to work, not to wait for retirement. So that’s the first point from the Bible: work is good.
- Even though work is good, and we may find some meaning and purpose in it. Your life, according to the Scripture, doesn’t stop and end with your job. I think culturally, when the the New Testament was written, jobs were not nearly as vocational as they are now. The economy was not really set up to make sure what you did to find fulfillment and purpose is how you got paid.Many of Jesus’ disciples were fishermen, for example. Paul was a tentmaker. The Bible at least implies Jesus was a carpenter. But there’s more to the story than what you do for a living. You are more than your job.Paul even tells us that our true work is found in God, in Christ. We are co-workers, with him, and with one another (1 Cor. 3:9). And we all have different roles. Your vocation is what matters.
- Finally, I think our approach to money, jobs, and ourselves is undone in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus gives us a new order. In Matthew 6, he goes on a long discourse about money and God, and why we can’t serve both, and he concludes with a passage about not worrying. Isn’t so much of our stress about our jobs about worrying? The whole machine in the U.S.is designed tooperate on you worrying, you fretting. Not just about your meaning, but just about making ends meet. Paying those higher and higher bills, paying down your higher and higher debt, with less and less money.But God can provide, especially through our community. You don’t have to do it alone. Community undoes the American individualism myth. Your faith matters more than your financial security.
Even with this reframing, we can still be troubled if our job itself is meaningful. Few of us have that experience. In fact, as I informally polled my Facebook friends, many reported dissatisfaction at their job, or found satisfaction in the stuff beyond their work. (Still, I think a high percentage of my friends are satisfied—which could indicate a lot of things, like the typical socioeconomic status of my friends or at least those that browse Facebook during the day.) There is more to life than what you do for a living, rather, it’s about what you do for God, and who you are in Him.
The question is, though, with work taking up so much of my time, what can I do with it even if I’m not a teacher, social worker, therapist, or an organizer? What happens if my job doesn’t easily connect to my faith? What can I do?
Let me go back to one of my favorite jobs. I remember working at Hersheypark during my youthful years, and I hardly derived much meaning out of operating the rides. If you back to my office, you’ll see my old name tag. Marked red for the fact that I was a proud ride foreman.
- Work well. I wasn’t always the greatest worker, but I found myself enjoying my job most when I decided to have a good attitude, be kind to the guests and my co-workers, and tried to even be like Jesus in the smallest of ways. My attitude, and my decision often times, to have a good despite the monotony of operating the Convoy on a 100-degree day for eight hours, really helped me cope with what could be a brutal job. Youkidn of have to put a smile on your face when you’re cleaning of a protein spill. I’ll let you figure out what that is, but we had our fair share at the Scrambler. The main reason to do this is because working with a good attitude, is truly like Christ and truly distinct. That smile on your face might be noticed, and I think vocationally, your job may get more meaning.
- Work hard. I suppose thisis tied to working well, but more than just having a good attitude. Put in an honest day’s work and I think youwill be rewarded. Not just through money or affirmation, but earning your rest too.This isn’t easy when we stress the work-play dichotomy so much. Sometimes we play so much, we don’t have the energy to work very hard. I think that damages us. The proverbsare filled with passages about hard work, and I think when we actually do it, we’ll feel better as well.Christians, for a long time, have emphasized the importance of good work (and there is reasons not to work and to protest working, in fact), but I think that hard, honest work makes our jobs easier and I think makes Jesus shine too. I think good boundaries are equally important.
I had to put my own politics aside when I started teaching at the privately funded “Institute for Reading Development.” I had a bad attitude going into the class, but I changed and did my best at my job. The goal was retention. I had to keep parents paying. And I worked hard toward that. Maybe I shouldn’t have, but having a goal in mind was a helpful way to move through that summer. And I hope those parents and kids that I taught felt something because of that effort.
- Make connections. One of the best things about Hersheypark was the community I found there. It was really fun to get to know people and make connections. Not every job has that opportunity, but the people that you work with or serve at your job probably need a friend like you. And I think a community like ours would be good for them too. So, if nothing else, use your job, meaningless, boring, underpaying, or otherwise, as a way to get into the family business, our collective vocation. Make friends! Connect them to Jesus.
I hope this brief overview about jobs was helpful. Maybe you can find your place in this bit of theology.