Chaplain's Corner: Worthy Work
A common human experience is that when one is absorbed in work or activity that one deems worthwhile, time seems to fly; one is often so deep in concentrated focus as to 'forget about self;' the opposite of this is the experience of listlessness. On a purely human level we could consider the words of Hindu teacher Gandhi regarding such absorbing work: ".. . finding satisfaction in work is our best hope for happiness in life."i However, there is a higher matter to be considered, a Divine element to 'worthy work.' King David links the work we do to our purpose in life: "The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me; thy steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of thy hands." (Ps 137: 8). So, what is ultimately meaningful will be that which we do that carries out our purpose in life; and at the same time it will be a Godly act. In his Epistle to the Corinthians (1Cor 3: 9,13-14) St. Paul tells us: "For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building … each man's work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward."
The Church Fathers knew that listlessness, that is to say, a feeling of lack of interest or energy, is born of inactivity or meaningless activity. One way of overcoming listlessness, then, is to choose work and activities that fit the gifts given to us by God. Such gifts are our abilities, interests and talents that fit and challenge our skills. The choice of such work gives the advantage that we will both fulfill God’s purpose and, at the same time, will find our life more worthwhile and meaningful. Our holy Eastern Father of the Church Evagrios Ponticus tells us: "Provide yourself with such work for your hands as can be done . . . so that you are not a burden to anyone and indeed can give to others . . . and you will overcome listlessness. . ."ii It should be noted that Evagrios mentions both a personal and a social dimension in overcoming lassitude. One factor is taking responsibility for oneself, that is to say, being as self-reliant as possible; the other factor is to be, at the same time, serving others. Why would this be so? Because what we do reflects both our love of God and of our neighbor. As Jesus’ apostle St. John writes in his Epistle: "Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God." (1Jn 4:7).
In both the Eastern and Western Church traditions work, even of the humdrum, necessary or routine sort, can be made holy, made most fully meaningful, by dedicating it to God and keeping a mindfulness of Him during the activities being done. The beautiful Prayer for Work of the Eastern Church captures this ethos: "O Lord Jesus Christ, the Only-Begotten Son of Thine Eternal Father, Thou hast said "Without me you can do nothing." In faithfulness I embrace Thy words, O Lord, and bow before Thy goodness. Help me to complete the work I am about to do for Thine own glory. For thou art the Good God who loveth mankind and to Thee we ascribe Glory, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit: now and ever, and unto ages and ages. Amen"
[ii] Palmer, G.E.H., Sherrard, P. & Ware, K. (Eds). (1979). The Philokalia, Volume 1: The Complete Text; Compiled by St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain & St. Makarios of Corinth. London: Faber and Faber.