Toward a Theology of Work: “I Quit” — Part 3

On Thursday, I quit my job.

At lunch with my supervisor yesterday, I told him that my last day would be September 21. My reasons were these: I have discovered over the last 13 months that I am not “wired” for the 9-5, office-type job. I am not wired for a job in which my creativity and passions are not allowed to flow freely. Ultimately, though, I believe the reason for my itchiness in my current job has been the disconnect between this “job” and my ultimate vocation and calling. I have had the nagging belief that though my current job hasn’t been without its joys and blissful moments, my continual feeling was that something more existed “out there.”

Why do many of us feel ultimately unfulfilled in our places of work?

I wonder (and this is just me thinking out loud) if it could be because we have believed that our primary identity is in what we do, believing that our work will bring the ultimate satisfaction in our lives. For many of us, our primary activity is our work. Then where does Genesis 3 play into the equation? In Genesis 3, after Adam and Eve broke covenant with God and ate of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, a result of this would be “toil,” or work. OK, so why then would we continue to place our primary identity and so much time and energy into our toil, which is a result of man’s sinfulness?

On the flipside, the Bible tells us that we were created in the image of God, who, at his very nature, is Creator. Maybe a more contemporary way to put it is this: God is the chief animator. He is forming life where previously, there was not any. He is putting the world in motion. He is writing and editing his wonderful master story in which his dream for His creation is enacted and made real. Like Ezekiel in the desert, God is breathing life into dry bones, all to His glory.

Could it be that created in the Animator’s image, our primary vocation is as creators, life-breathers? Not all of us write and edit animated television series, draw graphic novels, or pen great American novels. Some of us sit for hours on a hurting neighbor’s front porch. Others of us give our tenants a fair rent for the apartments we manage. Still others teach kids how to make and fly kites on a windy day. Truth is, we can’t help but create. The question must be, then, in what ways is God wanting to use the talents and skills HE has developed in me to join his creative purpose in the world, and why am I not jumping in with feet flailing?

I can think of 2 main reasons why this is so.

1) Most of us have believed a lie. We have drunk the Kool-Aid that our consumption-minded, productivity-oriented, money-saturated culture has offered us: If happiness and abundance are what you’re after, then you need to work harder. Increase productivity. Make your “toil” your primary identifier. In our pursuit of money and “happiness,” we have blindly bought the cultural norms of our time with regard to our work, which much of the time is not leading us into “life to the full. But what if my friend Tyler, who made the following comment on the last post, is right?

Work sucks. That’s why it’s called “work.” (circular argument, I know). The ground fights back at man as he toils by the sweat of his brow, and lo, nothing has he to show for his efforts but thorns and thistles.

I think work is a part of the Fall. Cultivation, however, is the stuff going on in the garden. I want to cultivate. No one seems to get tired of cultivating life.

2) We don’t trust God to provide. We fall back on salaries and pensions and benefits and long hours. We don’t take Jesus at his words: “Do not store up…do not worry.” We explain them away and put asterisks next to them in our Bibles and commentaries. We more or less take our futures into our own hands, making God an add-on — not the very nucleus — in our lives. These words sting, and I’m right there on the receiving end with everyone else. What if we adopted a “theology of enough,” declaring contentment with what we have (or discontent if we have too much) and radically trusting the Lord — not ourselves or our jobs — for our provision? We would indeed look like a peculiar people.

I’ve been thinking: What if this conversation wasn’t about “work” at all, but about life — life abundant? What if this conversation was about discovering that our primary vocation is to bask in the love of our Creator, and in turn join Him in cultivating — creating — more and more life? This doesn’t necessarily make our day jobs pointless, but it just might. How many of us are spending the majority of our time doing something other than cultivating life — Eden style? Are we living in ways that model the ideal, gospel-shaped world that God is creating here? Do we even have the time and desire to pursue such a life? If not, could our work be one of the things that stands in the way? You see, this is where things get really dangerous, because right about now, I’m calling into question that little myth politicians call the “American Dream.” I’m poo-pooing some of the assumed pathways to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” in this country. I’m questioning whether it is through our “toil” that we ultimately find the abundant life …

Maybe God will lead you to quit your job, like I did on Thursday. But my sincere prayer is that we’ll all quit going our own way, and join God on the journey into life.

————————————

OK, for those who care, here are the details about my next steps: I’m going to pursue a freelance journalism career, pitching feature story ideas to magazines, newspapers, E-zines, and various other media outlets. Writing — and specifically more narrative, featuresque writing — has been one area in which I’ve experienced a great deal of life, and I’d like to spend a considerable amount of time using that ability to bless others and give a voice to the voiceless. Additionally, as I ease into this as my full-time profession, I’ve taken a part-time job in the afternoons as the Recreational Coordinator at an after-school youth drop-in program in our neighborhood. The center is literally 3 blocks from my front door. I’ll be helping plan and implement activities and shared projects for a group of about 10-17 primarily Hispanic youth, but mostly I’ll just hang out with them and become their friend. Mostly, though, it will hopefully give me the freedom to spend more time in our neighborhood, with our new East Boston friends. I believe that by walking away from the lie that our abundance is monetary or career-oriented, we will be walking into a freedom and peace that the world simply does not comprehend. Freedom to model more clearly the “new world” God is creating, and into which he calls all his fellow creators. (If any of you have connections at magazines, newspapers, websites, or other media outlets, drop me a note!)

And for those of you who don’t know, Chrissy is now the Business Manager for a non-profit organization that matches elderly mentors with public school kids to teach reading and other skills. So far, it’s a perfect fit.  Our God truly provides. Will we trust him — no matter what?

Shalom.

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14 responses to this post.

  1. So, you swallowed the red pill…

    Reply

  2. Wish I would have read this before we chatted today –

    Reply

  3. Posted by priest on August 25, 2007 at 4:40 pm

    that’s good news, my friend, good news. “bird with no wings”

    Reply

  4. you’re poo-pooing the revised american dream…

    the original was to live free from oppressive systems of government, religion, business, and culture. to live free to pursue life as we see fit… not by another’s leave. i think this dream is still alive…

    i can live with that dream, it jibes with my heart

    Reply

  5. Miller–AMEN

    Steve–I see no problem with what you have done. A leap of faith is always a leap into the arms of God. I think we all have a “higher calling” and it takes a lot of faith to let God lead us to it.

    It isn’t about the “job” it’s about people. It’s about loving and serving others, no matter where God leads us. I’m excited to hear what happens with the kids. Seems like a perfect way to get better into the neighborhood.

    Reply

  6. Hey, does anyone have trouble reading comments on this blog besides me?

    Reply

  7. not me…

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  8. me either…

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  9. Posted by Dan on August 27, 2007 at 12:25 pm

    Steve,
    Now that’s what I call living by faith, pursuing the depths of one’s calling. I’m with you, brother and sister. I just returned from a weekend with friends in a tiny village in the mountains of New Mexico. What a simple way of life, what a return to trusting God for daily life….
    Too bad we mess it up so much with the American dream…what about God’s dream???
    Dan

    Reply

  10. I’m loving your series on work, Steve. I think you’re right on the money that our culture of money, work, production, consumption just isn’t bringing the satisfaction it promises, but rather distraction.

    Congrats on the bold step you’ve just taken. I pray that your endeavors in writing and serving local teens go well.

    Reply

  11. I can’t see like the first couple words of each comment. Maybe its that I’m at an unfulfilling job trying to make ends meet. And this unfulling job has apparently not figured out that mozilla is the best browser.

    I think my call is in Real Estate, but the gods of economics are pushing me in the direction of toilsome call center work.

    Reply

  12. Posted by gentry13 on August 27, 2007 at 9:13 pm

    hey steve, if the afterschool gig doesn’t work out let me know. i think our organization, which focuses on providing employment and housing to people with disabilities, will be hiring a new communications person sooner than later. i’m sure you’d be great at the job and it would help you make great connections with the local media.

    Reply

  13. Congrats! Blessings on your grand adventure. I applaud your heart and courage, faith and what our society would probably call “stupidity”! I found it interesting when learning Spanish… they have two verbs for “being or to be”, one is temporary (I’m sick, I’m happy) the other is permanent or associated with identiy (I’m a woman, I’m Canadian)… I was surprised that they use the permanent identity verb when describing their job- like it is who we are and does not change. I think they use the wrong verb.

    Reply

  14. Posted by Melanie Larson on August 29, 2007 at 2:48 pm

    Steve, have you considered writing for Burnside Writer’s Collective? I am acquainted with the editor, Jordan Green. However, not sure if they pay…but you should definitely look into publications like that. And Sojourners. And there’s a website for college kids called trueu.org. It’s run by Focus, but they actually have a lot of good content on there. My friend is the editor there as well. Anyway if you want to chat, email me!

    Reply

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