Monday, May 4, 2009

When Work Isn't Work

I've been discovering a whole raft of online conversations going on right now about work and faith. Inside Work, for example, is an entire web site devoted to the subject of faith in work and business, and contains some of the most intelligent conversation I've run across on the subject. Another site (or blog, to be specific), Red Letter Believers, had a post about it yesterday, asking the provocative question, does work matter? A blog I particularly like is Shrinking the Camel, written by a business executive in the northeastern U.S., and it's all about work, with an occasional digression about family and children. Which is also work, come to think about it, the most difficult work/mission we can encounter.

The workplace can be a tough mission field, but likely no tougher than anywhere else. I've learned that, like most situations, what you do at work matters vastly more than what you say. So you have to be conscious of what you say and how well it connects to what you do, but the doing is the critical part. When people see something different in the workplace, they want to know why. So they watch, and sometimes they ask.

I've found this works in two ways. First, if people think you're serious about your faith, they expect you to be different. They don't expect the same profanity and politicking they experience with everyone else. This is where I've seen business people trip up -- it's almost as if they deliberately keep their faith out of the workplace because "you have to play the business game to be successful." I've heard some Christian business people actually articulate this. And I've been on the receiving end a few times -- surprised (walloped, actually) by actions and words I never would have expected from a fellow believer. I'm older now, and have to keep reminding myself that God continues to work on me, too.

But second, there's a more positive sense of how faith can operate in the workplace. Work has been hard from the beginning; God never told Adam that it would be a slam dunk. But He also gave us the ability to create and innovate, to encourage others to create and innovate, and possibly to provide air cover so people can create and innovate. I've found that most organizations tend to reject creativity and innovation until circumstances force them to accept it. (I also have a theory about this -- that change comes to a profession primarily from outside the profession, because it's too threatening to one's notions of expertise and control. And it is threatening. Look at newspapers; they're dying because of the change coming from outside traditional journalism.)

But what might be accomplished if I, as a believer in the workplace, help people create and innovate? Might people see a glimpse of the ultimate Creator?

I figure it's worth a shot.

These online discussions about work have also prompted me to look at what I'm doing with my writing. Up until now, I haven't thought of my writing as work. There's no question that it's hard, frustrating and often a struggle. But have I thought of it as work?

I realized that writing is exactly that -- work. And the same rules that apply to my job at the office apply to my writing. Am I doing what everyone else is doing? Is it the same old rut? Or is it creative? Does it offer a fresh voice? Is it purposeful?

And most of all -- does it please God?


Anonymous said...

I love that you haven't thought of writing as work actually - that is, if the word "work" has all those negative connotations attached to it! All of life has frustrations in this fallen world, but Jesus is redeeming the world and our work!

Warren Baldwin said...

Very good post. I have a writing project, "work," that is almost complete but I have been putting off the final touches. Is that pleasing to God? Probably not. Thanks for the shot.