Escaping to Work
I like my job. It is challenging but meaningful. It is demanding but also provides a sense of exhilaration. The days are long but it’s nice to clock off knowing I’ve done a good and hard day’s work. Some days however, I think I like my job too much. These are days when other spheres of my life aren’t performing too well: my husband Leonard pointing out I have been snappy and irritable lately, my prayer life dry and uninspired, the effort of investing in friendship groups insurmountable.
Some people do things to escape from work; others do work to escape from things.
To Avoid Conflict
Long days in the office feel less draining when compared to attending a family dinner, knowing I may face annoying questions or difficult personalities.
Whilst it may sometimes be wise to avoid conflict, most times we must deal with it. For some relationships—like housemates—dealing with conflict is necessary for a degree of harmonious coexistence. For others—like spouses—a commitment to managing conflict is the linchpin of a strong and ongoing relationship.
As Christians, we are not only forbidden from sowing discord (Prov 6:16–19), we are also called to strive to keep the peace if within our means to do so (Rom 12:18). Often the Scriptures apply this to our personal roles and responsibilities, in the form of children honouring their parents (Exod 20:12), spouses serving and honouring one another (Eph 5:33), a father not exasperating their children (Eph 6:4), or parents raising their children up in truth and the love of the Lord (Prov 22:6).
Carrying out these responsibilities will sometimes result in conflict. And sometimes this conflict arrives beautifully timed with a big blowup at work. When it does, how should we prioritise? Our default may be to retreat into our home offices and turn on our laptop; to treat our work as facades for acts of stonewalling, but we all know that’s not what God would have of us.
So when I realise on a Friday that I have not had the mental presence of mind to ask Leonard about his week (it happens) or my parents call suddenly and say we need to talk about my lack of communication, I need to be open-hearted about addressing what’s on their minds, in considering their needs as more important than my own (Phil 2:4), in resisting the temptation to use ‘I’m busy at work’ as a scapegoat.
To Resist Opportunities that Build Character
If addressing conflict is part of growing in character, then running away from conflict is probably stunting it. The truth is, in a conflict often both you and they are in the wrong—either in the commission of wrongdoing or the omission of doing good. When faced with the realities of my own sinfulness and my possible contribution to the conflict, I would often rather turn to my work than work on repenting, resolving and reconciling. Working on spreadsheets is often more comfortable than working on my patience, humility or sharp tongue.
However, this is an abuse of God’s gift of work, and a de-prioritisation of what he cares about. His concerns for us are about our godliness and character. He desires a church that is growing in holiness and the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22–23), a people who are practising the ‘one another’ commandments, followers who are known for their love (Jn 13:35), whose conduct is godly and pure, shining like stars in the dark sky of the world (Phil 2:15).
In avoiding conflict, we may be avoiding the exact opportunities that shape us to be the people God intends us to be.
To Run from the Deeper Questions of Life
Lastly, sometimes we turn to work to avoid the deeper questions of life. Questions that tug on our sense of identity and self-worth: who are you when you’re not at work? Questions that throw doubt on the value or legacy of what we do. Questions stated matter-of-factly by the Teacher in Ecclesiastes: what is the point of it all, if we are going to die anyway (Eccl 1:2–3)?
These questions are like a splash of cold water to the face, they make us aware of our disproportionate efforts and misplaced identities. For in our striving at work, we sometimes realise that although Christians now belong to God, we live and work as if we belong to our employers instead. Even though we are called to store up our riches in heaven (Matt 6:19–21), we sometimes do the complete opposite. Even though we’ve been told we have a heavenly Father who loves us and provides for us (Matt 6:26–32), we grind on in life as if we are orphaned and abandoned.
This should not be the way. We have been given everything in Christ (Eph 1:3). We have been bought by God to do his work for his glory. We do not belong to ourselves anymore, and ought to concern ourselves with what God cares about—our character and godliness; how much we love Christ and reflect him to the world.
Counterintuitively, loving God more than our work often makes us better workers: our work is full of good deeds, a strong work ethic and an unblemished reputation (Matt 5:16; 1 Pet 2:12). However, loving God also means we now serve something bigger than our work. That leads us to say ‘no’ to things at work; to prioritise it below our wider responsibilities as Christians, family members and members of society; and to repent of our tendencies to treat work as our de facto god. We should not turn to work for solace or comfort or to run from life’s problems. We should not abuse it as a way to avoid doing good to our neighbours and ourselves. Rather, we should treat our work as God intends it to be, as one of the ways in which he meets our needs (Php 4:19) and enables us to give to others (Eph 4:28).
Next time we are tempted to turn to work to escape from difficulties—be they conflict, tough questions, the depths of sin (both ours and others’) or and the complexities of human relationships, let us turn instead to God, who can provide, and has provided, infinitely more. Let us be shaped by his priorities and purposes for work—for the love and service of others. Let us view it with the right degree of seriousness and reverence—important, but not supreme.
In Christ, we are both free to work and free from it. Hallelujah.
This article was first published on TGCA (The Gospel Coalition Australia) website https://au.thegospelcoalition.org/article/escaping-to-work/
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