Jul 27, 2014

Your Work Matters: When It Feels Like It Doesn’t

“I need this,” she said, looking each one of us in the eyes. “I need to hear your stories. It reminds me why I am doing this. Why I started in the first place.”

We were sitting in a circle on a rooftop in Port au Prince, Haiti—a ragtag team of missionaries that included a doctor, nurses, nurse practitioners, students, and nonmedical personnel like me. We had just spent four days seeing almost six hundred patients in a little clinic down the road and were sharing about how the experience had impacted us.

And we were tired.

But perhaps none was more tired than Kathy Walmer, a nurse practitioner and executive director of Family Health Ministries—the organization that assembled our little team. Kathy and her husband, Dr. David Walmer, began the ministry twenty years ago after he had a life-changing experience during a mission trip to Haiti. Together they have built their ministry into two health clinics, an orphanage, a school, plans for a women’s health and birthing center, and have become accepted members of the Haitian communities they serve. The Walmer family has dedicated much of their life to improving the lives of the Haitian people.

The impact they have made on countless lives is glaringly evident. Yet, Kathy sat before our group that night in aching transparency. And while I marveled that she would need a reminder of just how much the work she does matters, isn’t this what we all desire? To know that what we do is making a difference in the world?

At The High Calling, our mission is to encourage people that God cares about their daily work. But what about when it feels otherwise? When daily tasks become drudgery and it’s hard to believe that your work matters?

The Value of Meaning

In his TED talk called “What makes us feel good about our work?” behavioral economist Dan Ariely shares numerous studies that indicate finding meaning in work is foundational to job satisfaction. In fact, researcher and psychologist Adam Grant, Ph.D. says that the number one factor in finding a job meaningful is the belief that one’s work has a “significant, lasting impact on other people.”

Ariely found that “even small meaning made a difference.” But workers and employers underestimate how important meaning is in work satisfaction. “If you understood how important meaning is, then you [employers] would figure out it’s actually important to spend some time, energy, and effort in getting people to care more about what they are doing,” he says.

Blogger and Chief Creative Officer at iDoneThis Janet Choi quotes authors Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer from their book The Progress Principle, “What matters is whether you perceive your work as contributing value to something or someone who matters (even your team, yourself, or your family).”

“Meaning isn’t necessarily lofty,” Choi goes on to say. “As in some unattainable, fairy tale magic bean thing, but it is something larger and greater than ourselves. The function of meaning is that it forms a bridge, extending yourself to a point somewhere beyond. And that might be as close as contributing value to the person next to you.”

As Christians, we don’t have to look far to find that place of meaning.

The Power of the Story

“Your work will make no sense to you unless you put it into some kind of story...” Tim Keller says, in this video filmed at the Gospel Coalition’s 2013 Faith at Work post-conference.

What story are we letting give meaning to our work? A lot of Christians hold to the story of, “In church, I’m doing God’s work; but out here, I’m just trying to make a living,” according to Dr. Keller. However, this view is not Biblical, he says.

“... Jesus is a king and he is the king over every area of your life ... the story that we have to put work into so that it makes sense is: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration.”

Watch the entire video to hear more about how this four-part Gospel story transforms our view of work to see all work as God’s work and enables us to find a deeper identity than work can give.

Our story is part of a bigger story, but in today’s culture, maintaining this perspective takes a deliberate effort. One way to foster this awareness is through the practice of Sabbath.

How Rest Enriches Work

In an interview from the 2012 New Life Conference, Eugene Peterson helps us understand how Sabbath and work are intertwined.

“ ... [W]e've got to understand the nature of Sabbath, which is paying attention to God's work. He worked six days, rested the seventh and then that seventh day, three times the word sabbath is used … sabbath now becomes a way of understanding your week of work as God's work, not my work ...”

When we set aside time to reflect on the value of our work and on our value as children of God, our work life is transformed. “[O]n the Sabbath,” says Abraham Joshua Heschel, “we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul.”

As Eugene Peterson says, Sabbath is less a cessation of work than a contemplation of it. In keeping Sabbath, we return work to its proper place and restore its dignity within the story God is writing in our lives.

Read more about reclaiming Sabbath-keeping here.

On the rooftop in Haiti that evening, we were stealing some Sabbath-moments together, to reflect on the hard work we’d done. We were reminding one another that our time in the clinic that week was a meaningful part of God’s bigger story. That, despite the magnitude of the need, despite the lack of infrastructure and the difficulty to instill permanent change in the community we were serving—despite the many barriers and frustrations ... indeed, our work matters.

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Laura Boggess is a Content Editor for The High Calling who lives in a little valley in West Virginia with her husband and two sons. Laura is the author of two novellas for teens: Brody's Story and Derek's Story. She blogs about life and faith at lauraboggess.com. Watch for her new book, Playdates with God, in the fall of 2014.

Your Work Matters

What if your work is drudgery? What if getting out of bed to head to your daily grind is just about to push you over the edge? What if Monday morning always arrives with a feeling a dread? We all want to feel as of the work we're doing is meaningful. We want it to fill us up, and we pray it makes a difference in the world for good. But what if you're stuck in a job that has nothing to do with what you feel called to do? What if you feel trapped and discouraged? In this series, Your Work Matters, we'll be asking some of these same questions. We don't promise to have all (or any) of the answers, but we encourage you to wrestle with these tough and painful issues, right along with us. Tell us your story. Offer your wisdom, and come away encouraged that you are not alone, and that God sees you, right where you are.

Featured image by Ian Sane. Used with Permission. Source via Flickr.

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