Finding Glory in the 9 to 5
Spring has dawned and with it desires of three years ago have re-awakened. These desires were born of a childhood spent reading Treasure Island, playing Cowboys and Indians barefoot, and hearing tales of my Dad’s years in Ghana. They manifested themselves in countless cross-country road trips, hours-long matches on the tennis court, and flights across the world. Then, on a mountaintop overlooking the city of Lima, Peru, on a hazy day in 2015, they formed into coherent thoughts.
‘I am made for more than the life I know.’
'I am made for something great and beyond.'
‘I am made for adventure.’
When I landed back in the States, those realizations caused me to question everything. Parking lots packed with personal cars seemed overly frivolous, buildings were overwhelmingly big, and my path to become an animator seemed meaningless and empty. I yearned to serve as we had in Peru, where our day of physical toil in the sun was bookended with prayer and community time. In contrast, I was working towards spending eight hours face-to-screen, at a desk, while daytime passed me by.
As I struggled to reconcile my heart with reality, a friend pointed out that this is a gift. My ability to study, the provisions of my job, the comforts of America... these are all gifts. God has given them to me for a purpose, she said: what will I do with them?
Her words brought me peace...
But is there something beyond this work? I ask now, after several years in an office.
Where do my longings lead?
What is the work I am truly made for?
We discover, as we travel through life on the Christian journey, our aspirations ultimately point to God. Our Father sates our thirsts, no matter how great, and He fills our 'emptinesses'. God's home, Heaven, is the home we seek.
As we look toward the total fulfillment of all we crave, what do we do? We wait. We wait on earth, striving to follow Him, knowing one day we may rest in our great reward.
And how do we sustain our life on earth? We work.
As boring or unfair as it may seem at times, especially to those of us dissatisfied with our jobs, we are made for work. 'In the beginning,' God worked -- for six days He created. Space and earth, land and sky, creatures and man: these are the works of His hands.
If man is created in God's image, reflecting the nature of the Father, then man, too, is made to work. Christ Himself shows us this: Jesus worked until He was thirty years old, virtually unknown to the world. For decades, He labored alongside His holy mother and father, practicing love and Jewish customs in a private sphere.
Perhaps it is Christ's pattern of life that inspired St. Josemaría Escrivá, the great promoter of glorifying God through everyday work, to write:
You want to be a martyr. I will place a martyrdom within your reach: to be an apostle and not to call yourself an apostle, to be a missionary — with a mission — and not to call yourself a missionary, to be a man of God and to seem a man of the world: to pass unnoticed! - The Way, #848
Christ passed relatively unnoticed by the world for a majority of His life. Even in His three years of public ministry, He did not exalt Himself with lofty titles. Rather, He called Himself 'servant' and 'son' (Mark 10:45).
Following Christ, how can we do the same? We spend eight, ten, twelve hours a day working. For most of us, our jobs do not directly involve prayer, acts of mercy, and evangelizing. We are not called 'missionaries.'
So how do we bring God into our offices and teams?
Like God impressed His nature upon us, we are made to leave something of our characters onto matter: in other words, we are to exercise our creativity and put into the world what is good, true, and beautiful. To understand what is truly good involves knowing the Father, through daily prayer and time with His Word. From this regular receipt of the Holy Spirit, we are able to bring peace, joy, and energy to the world: we bring Christ’s love to those who might not otherwise encounter it. In this way we are lights to the nations (Acts 13:47), our prayer and work connected. St. Paul exemplified this: Paul made tents as he travelled. In 1 Thessalonians 2:9 he wrote ‘For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the Gospel of God.’
St. Josemaría provides a structure for such a living in Opus Dei, the personal prelature he established in 1928. Commitments of this international lay and religious society include daily recitation of the Rosary, time with Scripture, and frequent receipt of Holy Communion. In addition to facilitating their interior, spiritual lives, all members are called to 'fulfill honorably' their commitment as citizens -- whether in the field of politics, finances, parenting, university life, etc. -- and embrace their mission with courage.
Some of our most recent saints lived their radical faith in such quiet, ‘courageous’ way: Louis and Zelie Martin worked as a clockmaker and manufacturer of fine lace, respectively, while raising a saintly family. Gianna Beretta Molla practiced medicine as she devoted herself as a prayerful wife and mother. John Paul II, before he entered the priesthood, worked in Polish rock quarries; his identity as ‘laborer’ continued into papacy, at which time he referred to his writing desk as his ‘intellectual work bench.’
But does this mean there is no place for those with missionary zeal like Paul and the apostles? Should religious vocations be discarded, in favor of integrating prayer into a secular nine-to-five job?
St. John Paul II developed a theology of work, Venerable Fulton Sheen presented the ways in which God’s creativity manifests itself in the work of our hands, and Bishop Robert Barron highlighted work as a social activity which draws us together, providing for a social need. At the same time, in Scripture, we read:
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. - Matthew 28: 19-20
Go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me. - Matthew 19:21
For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news! - Romans 10:13-15
With these in mind, any action which participates in God’s ongoing creation and providence is authentic, good work. For many of us, in a career sense, this daily mission of work is serving God daily under a secular job title. For others, being a missionary of Christ’s love is within the context of religious life – and/or literally entering into ‘Missionary’ life.
Ultimately, ‘when a Christian carries out with love the most insignificant everyday action, that action overflows with the transcendence of God.’—St. Josemaria Escriva, October 8, 1967
‘I am made for more,’ I determined four years ago, on the dusty mountainside off the ocean in Lima.
To those new to the beauty of God and wishing to share, to those seeking their vocations, to those struggling to integrate faith with office work, to those with questioning missionary hearts, know this:
Your yearnings are not foolish. Your prayers do not go unheard. Your desire for ‘more’ is not planted in you to blossom for a moment, then wither and die in dust.
You have a great call.
Christ was ‘servant’ and ‘son.’ In His identity is also our identity. Know that whatever your work, your calling lies in service, and sonship, to the King: Creator of the greatest adventures we will ever know.