Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Genesis teaches that if everything was right in the world, then work wouldn't be toil. I don't work outside tilling the soil all that much; I'm paid to sit inside and press little buttons, and to think about which buttons I should press in what order. Work can be very enjoyable, when it is fulfilling. Physical labor can feel very fulfilling, I've found, but that is probably actually just my body telling me that I don't exercise like I should. Still, when I accomplish something I care about, that sense of accomplishment makes the labor worth it. Am I working for that feeling, or am I working because I care about whatever I'm working on? I know I don't care about pressing the little buttons all day; I just do it so I can get money so I can get other things that I care about, later.

When I work on things that I care about, even that isn't easy. I say that it's worth the work when I start, then later I don't believe it and I stop. Later still, I realize it is and I go back to it. I say that I care about doing something, then my actions show that I care more about watching someone play piano on youtube. It's not that I care more about that video than I do the task at hand, but instead that I care, in that moment, about doing what is easiest, and being entertained is nearly always easiest. Sometimes work is hard to do, not because the actual labor is difficult, but because it's hard to remember what's important.

Last summer, working at Ligonier Camp, near the end of the summer, I was assigned to work for a week with a new program involving staff from outside Camp and kids who were of an age with which I wasn't used to working. Working with the outside staff and the older campers was tiring, and, due to the nature of it all, I didn't get a day off all week. The actual day to day wasn't physically tiring, we spent half the day sitting around discussing theology, but I was exhausted by the end of it. The last night there, it looked like we needed an extension cord for a projector, so I ran off to go find one. By the time I got back, they had solved the problem and didn't need the cord, so I ran off to go put it back, ended up going all over the place, stopped for several minutes in the Dining Hall to talk with counselors who were doing normal Camp things (like watching Wall-E) because I really wished I was doing that stuff (like watching Wall-E) instead, and eventually ended up where I started, where I was supposed to be. I felt emotionally and physically exhausted, the most tired I can ever remember feeling, but when I finally had the chance to stop and think, it felt like all this work was good, like I was doing the right thing, except for maybe that part where I stopped to chat with cute girl counselors who were watching Wall-E. The fact that I felt so tired told me that I was doing something right. A day or two later, I spent hours throwing up, because I had the flu.


Alex said...

I can tell that I'm doing my job right, or wrong, when I get a headache.

I'm not sure that you care about YouTube videos of people playing the piano, I think that something other than caring is going on. Ebert's recent post on frisson has been helpful to me in thinking about distraction.

Ryan said...

I used to think the same things about work, theologically. Recently, in a recorded talk I heard, Don Miller pointed out that while there is indeed toil in work because of the Fall, there was conflict before the Fall.

In the Garden, God noticed that Adam needed a helper (conflict) and so God set Adam to the task of naming all the animals (work, long work). None of the animals fit Adam as a helper, but God already knew that. After finishing his work God makes a Woman for Adam.

Miller points out how the Bible sees work and conflict as good things but, since we don't trust God, we have toil. I'm not sure how that affects my view of work, but Miller totally transformed my view of conflict. He says conflict is beautiful (much as some NT passage also does). I'm starting to understand what he and the Bible mean.