Especially in a challenging economy, some people take the perspective that you should work whatever job you can, because the most important thing is to make money and earn a living from your work.
This perspective can sometimes sounds virtuous at first. And, of course, earning a living is indeed an important and essential component of work. If you can’t earn a living at your work, that turns it into an a-vocation, not a career.
However, there is actually something very un-Christian in that view of work. The problem is that it has turned making money into the chief and leading principle for our work. But that is not to be the case. Making money in your work is only one component among at least two others to which we are to give chief consideration in choosing a job.
That perspective of work outlined above subordinates the equal importance of finding work for which you are a good fit to the cause of financial gain. That is not right. It dehumanizes people and robs them of their ability to find real fulfillment in their work and, ultimately, make their greatest contribution.
The great Christian thinker Dorothy Sayers captures this perfectly in her short essay “Why Work”:
At present we have no clear grasp of the principle that every man should do the work for which he is fitted by nature. The employer is obsessed by the notion that he must find cheap labour, and the worker by the notion that the best-paid job is the job for him.
Only feebly, inadequately, and spasmodically do we ever attempt to tackle the problem from the other end, and inquire: What type of worker is suited to this type of work?
People engaged in education see clearly that this is the right end to start from; but they are frustrated by economic pressure, and by the failure of parents on the one hand and employers on the other to grasp the fundamental importance of this approach.
Steve Jobs often said “you need to love what you do.” I’ve seen some Christians stalk down about that, saying things like “well, I have to live in the real world — I can’t afford the luxury of seeking a job that I love.”
But without even knowing it, Steve Jobs was actually reflecting a very Christian view of work. And, as Jobs knew, this is actually the perspective that tends toward the greatest economic success in the long-run as well, for it is impossible to excel over the long-term at work that you don’t enjoy.
Finding work that you love is not a luxury. It is an implication following from the Christian view of work — namely, that work is not only about economic realities, but as Sayers also says, something that should be looked upon “as a way of life in which the nature of man should find its proper exercise and delight and so fulfill itself to the glory of God.” That reality needs to be upheld right along with the economic purpose of work. Anything else is a truncated view of work, and to say “but I need to live in the real world” is the easy way out and actually lazy.
To those who say “but what if sweeping floors is the only job you can get; shouldn’t you take it?” The answer is, first, the biggest problem with this question is that it seems to assume that there is no one out there who actually likes sweeping floors. But beyond that, most of the time people asking this question are settling too easily. If you are literally going to starve if you don’t sweep floors, then sweep floors. But don’t stop there. While sweeping floors, hold on to your aspirations to find the work that is a good fit for you, and keep looking for it.
Too often, people fall into the fallacy of using economic realities to bludgeon people into giving up their aspirations and dreams. Why do we have to settle so easily for the “either/or”? As in “either you are a dreamer who wants to find the work that fits yourself well, or you can live in the ‘real world’ and do work you hate but earn a living.”
I reject that dichotomy, as all Christians should. It is unloving, un-Christian, contrary to the nature of human beings in the image of God, contrary to the reality that work is intended by God to be more than economic, contrary to God’s very own purposes for our work and, ironically, in the long-run it is also contrary to the legitimate economic aspect of work.