Friday, July 2, 2010

This Marvelous Busywork

This has been a good week. I have written a fair amount, spent good time with friends, spend better time with my wife, been productive at work, and learned a lot.

One of the more interesting aspects of this week was work. As you may have noticed, work has been on my mind a great deal recently. On the one hand, I really like working. I enjoy doing good work well, and I like glorifying God through excellence. Programming has the benefit of being interesting at least some of the time; there are good intellectual problems to solve on a semi-regular basis. Alas, recent months have not afforded me much opportunity to do the best parts of programming; since coming on with this job, I have spent most of my time analyzing data and trying to identify the causes of failures. That is good, important work— but it is hardly work that stirs the mind, much less the soul.

That has led to a certain amount of quiet (and sometimes not-so-quiet) discontent. As my mother can attest, from years of homeschooling me, I loathe boredom; the only thing worse is busywork. Being confronted with both on a regular basis, and often starved of social interaction (programming involves solitarily staring at a screen for hours on end) has left me mentally fried. In this I do not think I am particularly unique. Whatever my oddities—and make no mistake, I have many!—the struggles that afflict me are common to everyone.

Each of us wants our life to have purpose and meaning. We all want our days tasks to accomplish something, no matter how small. The particular kind of work that will satisfy each of us varies gloriously; I praise God (not least out of gratitude) that there are people who enjoy electrical work and repairing cars; I am not among them. As the kindly gentleman I spoke with at Borders a month ago pointed out, though: we are all of us needed. What matters is that we take joy in doing our work well and hopefully find vocations where we can exercise our gifts. For him, that is laying floors. For me, right now, it is carefully crafting software. What it will be in the future remains to be seen.

Work is good. God did not create work as a punishment for the Fall; Adam was commissioned to tend the Garden first. Like everything in this world, it has been corrupted by our sin. Ingratitude and complaints obscure the gift God has given us. Our relationships with bosses, subordinates, and coworkers are poisoned by sinful relational patterns. Work itself can become a drudgery, especially when we are set tasks to which we are not suited. Yet still it is a gift, not a curse. However much we may find ourselves toiling with frustration instead of joy, work is a gift.

The questions, for each of us, are whether we will choose to gladly accept that gift and whether we will seek to use it to the glory of God. In each case, if we answer in the affirmative, we will find the work better. It may not be any more pleasant, but even the worst of work, done to the glory of God, is good work.

For me, then, the challenge is to recognize that the tasks I have to do each day are worthy of my best efforts. No matter how they frustrate me, and no matter how pointless they may seem, they are the work that God has set before me. I must remember that I am not merely allowed to work; I am called to work, and to work well. Even busywork can be glorious.

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