On Work and Passion

Since I am a young adult (am I still a ‘young adult’ once I marry?), I often hear my peers talk about their jobs and how dissatisfied they are with them.  They aren’t passionate about their jobs, it’s boring, and so on.  That’s kinda sad.

But many times, I will hear some of my peers talk about the link between work and passion in moral terms.  If you don’t employ yourself in what you’re passionate about, you’re selling out.  Any job that you have that you’re not passionate about you shouldn’t hold onto for long because that’s not God’s best for you.

Is this Christian?

I would say:  no.

Where in the Bible does passion suddenly become the guiding rubric for choosing careers?  Where in the Bible does it say that only if you are enjoying your job are you in God’s will?  Answer:  nowhere.

For most of human history, people did not choose jobs in the same way that we choose them.  In a hunter-gatherer society, if you were a man, you went hunting and to war; if you were a woman, you raised children, cooked, and cleaned.  In trade-oriented societies, if your dad was a shoemaker, you were a shoemaker.  In underemployed societies, you take whatever job you can get.  Are any of these people making morally inferior choices?  I don’t think so.

I’m afraid that in our mixing Christianity and Culture that we’ve allowed ourselves to buy into the ideal of equating work and happiness as normative.  “You have to do what you like, what makes you happy.”  In the ever elusive search for personal happiness, we buy into the notion that “if only I did such and such I would be happy.”  Last week in our study on James, we were learning about patience.  I would go out on a limb to say that the Bible is more likely to encourage us to learn to be happy where we are at (in the Lord), rather than chasing after “happiness.”

I think we’ve also made the mistake of confusing occupation and vocation.  Occupation is our work, our job; vocation is our calling (does passion always have to factor into calling?).  For most people, they cannot make their vocation their occupation.  This is a fact, but I think that somehow, we make people feel bad about this.  Consequently, I know people who switch job to job in search for their calling, people who put their heart and soul into their jobs in order to compensate for their lack of passion, people who do their jobs so begrudgingly because they don’t like their jobs, people who are chronically unemployed because they can’t find “the right job” (you know who you are), and so on–you know what I’m talking about.

What is the “Christian” way?  I’m not sure yet.  I still think that we need to be challenged in the way we choose our jobs, our pursuit (or neglect) of vocation, the making of money, and so forth.  But I think that the sort of way we’ve been going about things have led us astray.

4 thoughts on “”

  1. There are actually two problems that plague believers.  One you have already identified, which is over-emphasizing the “rightness” of a job.  After all, the Bible says that he who looks at the clouds never sows.  If you look for the perfect conditions, you will keep looking.  The other problem you did not  identify, and that is laziness; or the inability to put up with hard work.  (And I think we are all lazy in one way or another.)
    If someone decides that no job is good enough for him, he might think that he has lofty ideals; but really he could just be lazy.  Many jobs are quite interesting and meaningful, but they also happen to require the most effort.  Without some effort, few jobs can be rewarding.  But many people feel downright dread at the prospect of hard work — that is a problem, but one that the gospel gently corrects.  The gospel holds out hope for the renewal of this world, and believers especially have hope that their participation is good and meaningful.  The gospel does not glorify human labor — it is onerous because of sin — but the gospel redeems human labor as well as other things.
    It is wrong to disparage a person for desiring meaningful work.  True, hordes of people on this planet would do any work just to be able to feed themselves.  But if a person has the opportunity for more meanful work, but does not take it, can there be anything worse than that?  If you are high-minded, laziness can keep you unemployed; but if you are employed and lazy, that will ensure that your work never gets better, even when it could.
    Meaningful work is a good thing.  It means that we can better express the gifts God has given us, and better express the hope of the gospel.  All real working situations are a mixture of good and bad, but some are more meaningful than others.  In the end, I think the problem is not high ideals for work, but laziness, and the gospel can counteract that; because as God is working, so may we also.

  2. Your comments are well received.  Laziness is certainly a big factor for many people…and underestimated in a society that downplays (or denies) the reality of sin.
    I hope in my reflections I’m not discouraging people to look for meaningful work.  I just think that the conversation needs be more nuanced than what I’ve been hearing thus far.  I think the glorification of occupational satisfaction is misleading and the Christianization of such discussions are spiritually harmful.

  3. how sad! i find no excuse for myself. i have meaningful work, that i’m happy about, and can be idealistic about, feel i can serve God with, and i’m STILL lazy!! is there a cure for laziness? can you please bottle it up in pill form and deliver to me via email… i am too lazy to go downstairs to check the real mail.

  4. mmm, interesting issue you have raised. I am not sure I agree with you tho. I will marshal my resources and get back to you as to why. But just quickly, why would God specifically want us to spend a huge chunk of our lives doing something that does not fulfill or challenge or grow us? I am not a believer in the whole prosperity thing or believe that only good things should happen to Christians – I have had some very difficult times in my life, but why should we ever SETTLE for something that is not enjoyable in the slightest and actually having a negative effect on our health? It just makes me think of those guys that whip themselves bloody because they believe they deserve it. Do you not enjoy, have a passion for your job? If you do, does that negate all you have said? I love enjoying my job. But that doesn’t mean I always do or that I don’t have terrible days  – most are incredibly stressful. But my passion for art/design has lead me into the advertising/design world and I believe that this is exactly where God means me to be why else PUT specific passions in our hearts? To tease us? To torture us? Yes, no, maybe? All my personal thoughts, but waddaya think? Will try come back later with less of a ramble. 🙂

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