John Paul Carter
For too long now, our nation’s monthly jobs report has told the tragic story of too many Americans being out of work. Although there has been improvement in the numbers since the beginning of the recession, progress has been agonizingly slow. And the numbers do not begin to describe the prolonged suffering of the people involved.
Our jobs are what we do to make a living. The money we get paid for doing those jobs provides us and our families with food, clothing, shelter, transportation, medical care and much more. While Jesus said that “man does not live by bread alone,” he never said that we could “live without bread.”
Indeed, the health of our communities, economic and otherwise, depends on most of us having jobs that provide us with a decent standard of living. When people lose their jobs, it affects us all.
However, unemployment statistics reflect more than just the loss of jobs and income. Our jobs provide us a place in our world, as well as the knowledge that our presence and daily efforts count for something. Being productive, getting paid for our labor, and using those earnings to care for ourselves and those we love is vital to our self-esteem and mental health.
At a time when so many have lost their jobs and many more are under-employed or in jeopardy of becoming unemployed, it may be helpful to realize that there are differences between our jobs and our work.
Our work is more than employment — a job that we get paid to do. It involves being able to use our natural abilities and to experience joy and satisfaction in our efforts. It’s labor in which we find meaning because we’re doing something that the world needs done and that we enjoy doing.
In Christian terms, our work is more than a job. It’s a calling — our vocation.
For some of us, our work and our job are happily one in the same. But for others of us, our calling is different than what we do to make a living. Whatever the circumstances, we can do our work whether we’re on the job or off, unemployed or retired. Our world is our workplace.
In his book “Blue Highways,” William Moon tells of his encounter with a traveler on a back road in California. The old man who had left his job behind said reflectively, “A man’s never out of work if he’s worth [anything]. It’s just sometimes he doesn’t get paid for it. I’ve gone unpaid my share and I’ve pulled my share of pay. But that’s got nothing to do with working. A man’s work is doing what he’s supposed to do, and that’s why he needs a catastrophe now and again to show him a bad turn isn’t the end, because a bad stroke never stops a good man’s work.”
We may not always be able to offer the unemployed a job. But we can provide support during their time of need and help them to rediscover and continue their work. In so doing, we may also find our own calling again.
Lord, give us this day our daily bread and remind us of the work You’ve called us to do.
John Paul Carter’s “Notes from the Journey” appear in the Democrat on the second and fourth Fridays of each month. Carter is an ordained minister who attends Central Christian Church.