The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and
have it abundantly.
--John 10:10 NRSV
Maybe it's because I'm passed the middle in middle age and have begun the
second half of my life, but whether it's because of my age or something
else, I've been thinking about "work" lately. I've worked in a variety of
places and done a variety of work, and I've been thinking about what parts
of my work have meant the most to me. For many (most?) of humanity, work is
a matter of survival and procuring the necessities of shelter, food, medical
care, raising children, etc. For those of us who live in the middle class
and above, work is more than just survival; it's also about purpose and
identity. If one is privileged enough to have a choice in where one works,
then why one works becomes a significant question.
In our culture, just think about the words we use to describe our
The words we use to talk about our jobs raise questions; such as, when we
think about what we "do for a living" are we really talking about living?
Frederick Buechner expresses the question of "life" verses "doing something
for a living" this way:
Jobs are what people do for a living, many of them for eight hours a day,
five days a week, minus vacations, for most of their lives. It is tragic to
think how few of them have their hearts in it. They work mainly for the
purpose of making money enough to enjoy their moments of not working
If one must spend around 40-plus years of their life working at least five
out of the seven days of the week for around fifty weeks a year--a huge
chunk of their one and only life, shouldn't that work be about really living
instead of working for the weekend or the next vacation?
The great writer and interviewer Studs Terkel once wrote in his amazing book
of interviews titled Working, "Working is a lot more than economics. It's
about a search for daily meaning as well as for daily bread, for recognition
as well as cash; in short, for a sort of life, rather than a Monday through
Friday sort of dying." Living instead of dying? I think I've heard something
about that before.
Jesus said, "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." In
context in the tenth chapter of John, Jesus describes himself as the gate to
a sheep pen. Anyone that doesn't enter the pen by the gate is a thief who
comes only to destroy. In other words, the abundant life Jesus offers comes
through him, or more precisely with God, the giver of life. Christians have
spiritualized these words to make them only about getting to heaven or about
believing proper doctrine, but especially in the Gospel of John, Jesus is
talking about the sort of life one lives here and now. This abundant life is
not about being right, as opposed to others who don't share your beliefs,
but about connection with God and being the one and only you, the one
created in God's image, the only you there ever will be.
I know a school secretary, a position that can be rather thankless, who
cares deeply about the kids who enter the school office every day. She knows
which kids don't have enough food to eat. She knows which kids are homeless.
She knows which kids have a rough home life. All these kids struggle in
school. She watches over them all and is a rare adult in their lives who is
invested in each of them.
I know managers at restaurants, box stores and machine shops. They work hard
to keep the business going--often underpaid and overworked. They know each
of their employees whether they are lifelong laborers or teenagers at a
summer job. They care about each person they work with and attempt to create
a safe and respectful workplace day after day, so their people can do their
jobs well and with dignity. These are the kind of people who write
recommendations and know the names of their employees' children.
I know a Human Resources Director who daily works through conflicts between
employees. She views company policies as a way to protect the rights and
dignity of all employees, not just the ones at the top. She sees her job as
teaching people how to act, speak and communicate in ways that create
respect and shared solutions to inevitable problems. For her, human
resources isn't about bureaucracy or filling out forms but rather improving
the lives of the people with whom she works.
In each of these cases, the job is about more than punching a clock, earning
money and surviving until the weekend. There is something more happening,
something less tangible and more spiritual, something less temporal and more
eternal. These examples illustrate people using their gifts given to them by
God and living out of the image of God inside of them. They are offering
their authentic selves to a world drowning in the inauthentic and
superficial. They are earning a living while also living.
If you are starting out on your career, what is it that is holy about your
chosen field? How do you make a difference in other people's lives?
If you are in mid-life, what about your employment journey thus far has been
the most meaningful, let the answers to that question guide your next steps
along the way.
If you are retired, what did you learn from your years of working that can
be shared with your kids, grandkids and younger people searching for living
and not just earning a living? What was meaningful about the work you did
that you can do now as a volunteer or mentor?
We only get one life, and if we are going to spend a big chunk of it
working, shouldn't earning a living involve really living?
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
6601 Northwest 72nd Street, Kansas City, MO 64151 | 816-741-1851