“Real Work”

Last month a few of my friends had some honest, thoughtful, and good things to say about work, found here and here. Work… it’s just like a lot of other things in life- created as a good thing by God (Adam and Eve were commissioned to tend the Garden before the Fall- a good thing, Genesis 1:30, 2:15), distorted by the Fall (“cursed is the ground… through painful toil you will eat of it…” Genesis 3:17).

Not long after reading those posts, I came across the following in a book I was reading. It struck me as potential fodder for an unhealthy view of how God created us and work. But I knew the author was getting at something more, something that would actually be very healthy. He prefaced the quote with a story about a season in his life working as a butcher. Good butchers, he learned, let the meat type and unique features of the particular carcass guide their cuts. Bad butchers “imposed their wills” on the meat, without regard to each piece’s uniqueness…

The quote is  definitely worth mulling over given the (worldly?) pressure around us that says the best jobs around are those where we have the most opportunity for self-expression.

“Real work always includes a respect for the material at hand. The material can be a pork loin, or a mahogany plank, or a lump of clay, or the will of God, but when the work is done well there is a kind of submission of will to the conditions at hand, a cultivation of humility. …

“‘Negative capability’ is the phrase the poet John Keats coined to refer to this experience in work. He was impressed by William Shakespeare’s work in making such a variety of characters in his plays, none of which seemed to be a projection of Shakespeare’s ego. Each had an independant life of his or her own. Keats wrote, ‘A poet has no Identity…he is continually…filling some other Body.’ He believed that the only way real creative will matured was in a person who was not hell-bent on imposing his or her will on another person or thing but ‘was capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable searching after fact and reason.’ …

“Real work, whether it involves making babies or poems, hamburger of holiness, is not self-expression, but its very opposite. Real workers, skilled workers, practice negative capability – the suppression of self so that the work can take place on its own. St. John the Baptist’s ‘I must decrease, but he must increase’ is embedded in all good work. When we work well, our tastes, experienes, and values are held in check so that the nature of the material or the person or the process or our God is as little adulterated or compromised by our ego as possible.”

Eugene Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor, pp.100-102

I’d definitely love to hear your thoughts on this subject…

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2 Comments»

  sanjung wrote @

Wow, I definitely will mull over this one. Lately, I’ve been working as a receptionist. God has put me here for a purpose. It’s been quite eye-opening, humbling, trying, tiring, frustrating, and . . . good. :O)

  Daniel K. Eng wrote @

interesting topic, Yucan.

Aristotle started us thinking about white-collar jobs being superior to blue-collar jobs. In Greek philosophy, the work that was more closely related to manual labor and used physical strength was considered lower than anything disengaged with the body–mental or spiritual.

Karl Marx turned this around, teaching that white collar jobs leeched off the working class.

But God calls us to look at the purpose of our work, not the means of our work.

“whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” –Col. 3:23-24.

God looks at our attitudes towards work–we do our best because we are serving Him. We all have different callings, and none are more important than others.

You know, only in modern America and other similar cultures do we even think about purpose. In most other places and times, our destiny is decided for us. If we come from a mining family, we are miners. Blacksmiths have blacksmiths as sons.

God simply calls us to be faithful. Work is more about WHO our Master is, not so much about WHAT we do.


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