I love to work. Not hard, get-sweaty, break-a-nail work, mind you, but I have always loved my jobs.
One day, I think when I was still doing non-profit development work in Boston, I was telling my mother about all the hours I had worked that week. Never an early riser, I generally wasn’t in the office before 9 am. But 9 pm would often come and go and I would still be there. I often could still be found working on grant proposals and letters at midnight, since I always write better in the wee hours.
My mother complained about my long hours, and I was a bit taken aback. “But I learned this from you and Dad,” I said. “You never said no to longer hours and more work.”
“But I got paid for it!” she retorted, reminding me of the difference between her retail hours of overtime and my 80+ hours a week salaried position. It made me think a little more about my childhood mythology of my parents’ amazing work ethics.
That mythology probably grew out of my dad’s leaving for work at Selfridge Air National Guard base before 6 am every morning, often before I was out of bed for school. (Did I mention I’m no early bird, so an early departure is still something that will earn my enduring awe.) But he was also home early every day – no overtime for that salaried guy. His work schedule allowed him to come to all my track meets, even the away ones, and be my primary taxi cab in high school. He was president of the PTA one year in a time when men rarely even came to PTA meetings. He never worked weekends, unless there was a trip he had to fly on – and then it seemed there was very little “work” involved if you listened to the stories he told.
I think my dad liked his job. He rarely complained, genuinely seemed to like his co-workers, and often told stories of a rough patch in his life when he was out of work, just at the time he married my mother. Her father did not approve of the fact that for many months she supported their new family, and he hated that my grandfather had called him a bum. ‘I’ve been working since I was 6 years old,” he’d often say to prove his worth. I think he had a job selling newspapers or something in his little town of Brownsville, PA, where until the day he died he could not walk down the street without someone calling out, ‘Hey, isn’t that little Bobby Huston.” So we knew that even on the days when he didn’t like his job so much, he appreciated having it. That said, I don’t think he worked a day after he was eligible for retirement. So I doubt he loved his job the way I love mine.
My mom, on the other hand, loved her job, maybe more than I love mine. If she hadn’t been forced out of a job because of her age, I think she’d still be ringing the register somewhere. Her favorite was when she was working the jewelry counter at the Base Exchange; she came home every night with a total of what her register had rung and it was l ways more money than my high school brain could imagine. She wasn’t as happy after Dad retired and they moved back to Pennsylvania. She got a job at Hills, a local department store, but they didn’t like that she could do math in her head better than the register. She often caught mistakes and refused to charge a customer more than they should pay. Management kept telling her to just rush them through and let the customer complain later if they caught it. “Most people won’t even know,” they’d tell her in all her reviews. “But I’d know!” replied my mother grimly. They eventually forced her out, and it was only then that her health started its steady decline.
But if I’m honest, my idolization of my parents’ work ethic really didn’t come from their jobs. Remember I said I don’t really like work where I have to get my hands dirty? My parents were never afraid of that kind of work. My mother grew up on a farm. There was nothing too dirty or ugly or deadly for her. My father was not lying when he said he’d been working since childhood – he had the craziest assortment of jobs you’ve ever heard of: assistant to the wrestling commissioner, tap dancer, barber, food prep in a Florida hotel – all before he joined the Air Force, was hurt in Japan during the Korean conflict and ended up with a civilian military job for life in Michigan. There was no work around the house he wouldn’t try, whether or not he had an aptitude for it. For a long time his love was gardening and the whole family spent hours and hours in the evenings weeding and watering and admiring the bounty of his harvest – which was actually pretty good for a city boy!
It was probably during one of those long, hot evenings in the Michigan mosquito-infested garden that it became clear that I needed to aspire to an office job. Blisters, bugs and backaches are the triumvirate of Hell for me. I appreciate 1 hour of hard, outdoor work more than 20 of my office job – because most of what I do is so much fun to me that I can hardy call it work. Writing – I love it! Preaching and speaking – maybe I love it more! Talking one on one, digging deeply into emotions and passions and Spirit and vision – absolutely the best of all. Knowing it helps me do all the rest makes even the financials and the filing bearable.
I am fairly confident that God has a job for all of us – whether or not we get paid to do it is an entirely different matter, I have been lucky enough to love all of my jobs – and to find new ones to love when the old stopped being meaningful. Some people work to live – and they have to. I feel blessed that for the most part I live to work.
My prayer today is that whether we love our jobs or just put up with them, that those of us with work can appreciate the blessing the way my father did. And for those without work, who are struggling with that burden, that they can find work that fulfills them, the way my mother did for so many years.
Do you think you live to work or work to live? What has been your favorite job? Is there a job to which you aspire? What are your examples of a strong work ethic from your past? What does it mean to you to do a job you don’t love, but that you appreciate anyway? Is there work – paid or unpaid – that God is calling you to do?
My spiritual director was a big help as I made a recent career change. If you need some help thinking through a job transition or finding your passion for work, contact me at Openings: Let the Spirit In.