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Living to Work

May 18th, 2010 | 1 min read

By Jeremy Mann

Dorothy Sayers’ presentation of work in her essay Why Work? is a helpful corrective for Christians who’ve lost sight of its theological purposes. Sustained conflict against the culture’s over-glorification of work has warped the church’s presentation of vocation. Instead of hearing what work should be, we hear what it is not. It is not as important as family, and it does not determine one’s worth. These responses, however, fail to fully describe the significance of our work:

Work is not, primarily, a thing one does to live, but the thing one lives to do. It is, or it should be, the full expression of the worker’s faculties, the thing in which he finds spiritual, mental and bodily satisfaction, and the medium in which he offers himself to God.”

Two things are interesting here. First, Sayers speaks in defense of identifying with one’s work, but for different reasons than are presently common. Instead of taking pride in salary, prestige, and power, Sayers speaks of a worker finding “spiritual, mental, and bodily satisfaction” in the full expression of his faculties. Under such a view, the worker doesn’t work to simply earn money—he or she works to be happy. God created humans to use their unique gifts in fruitful labor for others, and they won’t be happy if they can’t work. Even impressive, well-paying jobs won’t satisfy if they fail to allow the full expression of the faculties of the worker. But confusion about the right career isn’t the only reason so many people hate their job. Sayers explains:

It is only when work has to be looked on as a means to gain that it becomes hateful; for then, instead of a friend, it becomes an enemy from whom tolls and contributions have to be extracted.

When we work only to make money we come to resent the terms of the bargain, in part because money was never intended to be the primary reward for our labor. This leads to the second interesting aspect of Sayers’ presentation: her view that a worker must first “serve the work.” More on that later.