The Work Paradox
“To work—to work! It is such infinite delight to know that we still have the best things to do.”—Katherine Mansfield, author (1888-1923).
DO YOU share the idealistic notion of work expressed in the statement above? How do you personally view work? Do you perhaps feel that work is a long, dark tunnel between leisurely weekends? Or has your work become a passion bordering on addiction?
For most people, the largest segment of their waking hours is devoted to work. Work may determine where we live and what kind of life-style we have. From young adulthood to retirement, many find that work is the single pursuit that most dominates their lives. Some of us get great personal satisfaction from our labor. Others measure the value of work by income or prestige, while still others see work as no more than a time filler or even a time waster.
There are those who work to live and those who live to work; others die at or because of their work. For instance, according to a recent United Nations report, work causes more pain and death “than wars or drug and alcohol abuse combined.” Commenting on this, The Guardian newspaper of London reported: “More than two million people die from work-related accidents or disease every year . . . Exposure to dust, chemicals, noise and radiation [is] causing cancer, heart disease and strokes.” Child labor and forced labor are just two other ugly realities of current working conditions.
In addition, there is what psychologist Steven Berglas calls “supernova burnout.” He describes the diligent worker who has reached the pinnacle of his career only to feel “chronic trepidation, distress, despondency or depression attributable to the belief that he is trapped in a job, or on a career path, from which he can neither escape nor derive psychological gratification.”
Hard Work Versus Workaholism
In a world where many toil for long hours, it is useful to distinguish between hard workers and workaholics. Many workaholics see the workplace as a haven in a dangerous, unpredictable world; the industrious experience work as an essential and sometimes fulfilling obligation. Workaholics allow work to crowd out all other aspects of life; hard workers know when to turn off the computer, to switch gears mentally, and to be present when celebrating their wedding anniversary, for example. Workaholics find an emotional payoff in overwork and get an adrenaline high from it; hard workers do not.
Modern society blurs the line between the two as it glamorizes overwork. Modems, cell phones, and pagers may blur the boundary between workplace and home. When any place can be the workplace and any time can be work time, some will work themselves to death.
How do some people react to such an unwholesome attitude? Sociologists have discerned a trend of overworked and overstressed people toward bringing spirituality into the workplace and integrating religious and professional lives. The San Francisco Examiner reported that “the melding of spirituality and work has become something of a public phenomenon.”
Regarding Silicon Valley, a high-tech mecca in the United States, a recent report stated: “As executives count the empty workplace parking slots as layoffs persist, parking spots at evening Bible studies are in short supply.” Whatever the significance of that might be, many around the globe have found that the Bible has a positive influence on their outlook on work, resulting in a more balanced approach to life.
How can the Bible help us gain a balanced view of work? Are there any Scriptural principles that can help us face the challenges of the modern workplace successfully? The following article will deal with these questions.