I have been reading a brilliant book about work called The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work by the genius popular philosopher Alain de Botton. In the book he observes a number of different fields of work and helps us see our underlying assumptions about work, where we get these assumptions from and why they could help or hinder us.

In Chapter 4, de Botton follows a career counselor, Robert Symons and he explores the ideas that we have attached to our work. What is most telling is the assumption that we have come to expect our work to make us happy. De Botton writes:

“However powerful our technology and complex our corporations, the most remarkable feature of the modern working world may in the end be internal, consisting in an aspect of our mentalities: in the widely held belief that our work should make us happy. All societies have had work at their centre; ours is the first to suggest that it could be something more than a punishment or a penance. Ours is the first to imply that we should seek to work even in the absence of a financial imperative.”
― Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, 106

Here is the lesson that de Botton learned after observing Symons for a few weeks:

I left Symons’s company newly aware of the unthinking cruelty discreetly coiled within the magnanimous bourgeois assurance that everyone can discover happiness through work and love. It isn’t that these two entities are invariably incapable of delivering fulfilment, only that they almost never do so. And when an exception is represented as a rule, our individual misfortunes, instead of seeming to us quasi-inevitable aspects of life, will weigh down on us like particular curses. In denying the natural place reserved for longing and error in the human lot, the bourgeois ideology denies us the possibility of collective consolation for our fractious marriages and our unexploited ambitions, and condemns us instead to solitary feelings of shame and persecution for having stubbornly failed to become who we are. – Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, 127-128

De Botton has nailed it. The idea that work will be this amazing fulfilling thing for everyone is a contemporary myth that I have seen crush people or go from course to course and job to job trying to find the job that will make them happy.

We need a biblical perspective on our work. When sin came into the world and God said a startling thing to Adam about his work:

 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
    through painful toil you will eat food from it
    all the days of your life.
 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
    and you will eat the plants of the field.
 By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.”

Genesis 3:17-19

God talks about work not int terms of great fulfillment but that it will be hard. Is it normal to be in a job that you don’t really like? Yes it is. Is it normal to be in a job which doesn’t make you want change the world? Yes it is. Let’s disabuse ourselves of the notion that work is meant to fulfill us and if it doesn’t then there is something wrong with us.

But what about if you love your job? What if you, like me, are always thinking about your work and you find it inspiring and amazing. What about if you get out of bed every Monday with a sense of purpose because you get a sense of purpose in your work. There are two things that I think people like us should remember. Firstly, our job is a gift from God. If de Botton is right (and I think he is) very few people will find a job that will excite and satisfy them. So we should thank God that he has given us the unique set of skills and desires that so beautifully dovetail with the job we have. To have a job that we think is amazing is not normal but an amazing evidence of the grace of God in our life. Secondly, we should expect to go through seasons where our jobs aren’t that exciting or motivating. This not because there is necessarily something wrong with us or our jobs or that we need a career change it just means that we are toiling in a broken world where work will tough toil at some points.

To work well for the glory of Jesus we need to see work for what it is and what it isn’t. If we let our culture dictate to us how we are meant to view our work, then all of us at some point will be at least frustrated that our work doesn’t fulfill us like it should. If we let the gospel inform the way we view work we will be more ready to take the toil and mundane aspects of work in our stride.

You may also like:

Grace Means You’ve Got Nothing to Prove

Do You Make the Mistake of Finding Your Identity in Your Work?

Is God Disappointed in You?

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