The reasons we work

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Have you ever thought about why you work?

As a youth, I attempted to find something I enjoyed doing. Then I asked how much money it paid. Later I wondered how much prestige was associated with my job.

Work fills many roles in our lives, but it was only after scrutinizing the total picture of work that I appreciated its value.

Many can scarcely wait until retirement. Other people question, "What would I do with my life if I quit working?" That fear presents a real dilemma for many.

They know little about what to do with leisure time because their identities are tied to their jobs. Although most of us gauge ourselves somewhat through our vocations or work, it's sad when we base the worth of our lives purely on what we contribute on the job.

I recently listened to a guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show, a mother who followed her 27 year old daughter around town checking up on her where-abouts.

Naturally this caused problems. Oprah and various members of the audience chimed in to tell the woman to 'get a life' and stop following her daughter around. The lady, while choking back tears, replied, "I'm so used to being a mother. Who am I supposed to be now?"

That's a quandary many parents face. Until children are grown, rearing offspring is the "work" of most parents. Although they often eagerly anticipate the time when children will be gone, the nest empties and parents must reevaluate who they really are. What will they do with the rest of their lives?

The crisis arising when one retires, loses a job or becomes unable to measure up to occupational requirements can be debilitating. A person often doesn't know his or her purpose without being Johnny's parent, a bricklayer or a teacher.

It took some time for me to realize that work, indeed, serves many credible functions. First of all, we usually work from necessity -- to make a living. Scripture says "Those who don't work can't eat" (Proverbs).

A job occupies one's mind. If a mind isn't filled with something constructive it overflows with worry and all sorts of unworthy thoughts and garbage.

People work for fulfillment, whether for compensation or as a volunteer. Work also serves to elevate self esteem and confidence. It's a blessing to use gifts God has given.

I once heard an interesting perspective from a nun at a monastery. She said: "We think we're helping people when we do everything for them, but the best way to empower others is to never do something for someone that he can do for himself."

The principle applies to anyone. When an able person is denied the opportunity to perform what he's capable of, he becomes needy.

We help and empower others best by supplying the support, tools and knowledge -- then stepping back and allowing them to work, even while making their own mistakes.

I wholeheartedly agree with St. Benedict's belief that "Work is more than a way to make a living and to stay balanced. It's a way to find and glorify God."

Ellen Shuck is director of religious education at St. Mary's Cathedral Parish.

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