Work reveals our citizenship
This letter is for Matt Dewell, who has seen more terrible movies with me than anyone should ever be forced to endure.
More than any other person I know, I have heard you say frequently that you love your work. It shows. You talk about what you do with enthusiasm. You ruminate over the possibilities of what could be done. You apply yourself to further training and development, interested to learn and eager to share. Work doesn’t get in the way of your relationships or your hobbies but maintains the appropriate balance between what you have to offer and what you’re willing to provide.
My favorite writer on the subject of work is Robert Lupton, president of Focus Community Strategies and author of Toxic Charity: how churches and charities hurt those they help, and how to reverse it. Lupton says “Life offers no fulfillment without work,” and that “the creation of productive, meaningful employment fulfills one of the Creator’s highest designs.”
If I were to parse his ideas into our larger conversation about working with God to heal the world, then I think Lupton would agree that work is a gift, a calling, and a responsibility. The work we do, and the way we do it, reveals the truth of our citizenship; that is, our character is revealed through our work.
We have spoken about differentiating between a “job” and a “vocation.” The former was meant to delineate what we did in order to survive, while the latter referenced the work entrusted to us by God. So, a garbage man must work to live, but he may also be passionately motivated to develop inner-city youth. His job is to pick up garbage for money; his vocation is to give youth hope. He works his job so he can fulfill his vocation.
Everyone needs a job, but everyone must also discover their vocation since it is the chief means by which they cooperate with God to heal the world.
What Robert Lupton is saying—indeed, what so many great thinkers have boldly proclaimed—is that even our jobs are not just jobs. Granted, our jobs may not have the power to fulfill us like our vocation, but if we do not work something begins to deteriorate within us. I have seen this first hand, when the people who routinely ask for handouts come back again and again and again for more free things, growing increasingly rangy and resentful that they cannot get what they want. Often these same people have the opportunity to work but perceive the work that’s available as beneath them, or less lucrative that social security, and would rather do nothing than earn something since nothing will allow them to have more. But this is precisely the scenario Lupton warns about, since once we go down the path of doing nothing, we become accustomed to nothing, until even our vocational passion erodes.
Do you see? Your vocation is your highest ambition, but your job is the piton that keeps you from falling below a certain level of dignity, responsibility, character, and godly pride.
Why am I telling you this? Is it because you don’t work and need to be convinced? Far from it! You’re the perfect answer to the lazy man who’s content to live off the dole. You know why work matters—its efficacy within your soul is readily felt. You’re the person I want to hold up and say, “See—like him!”
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks claims “we can climb at least part of the way to heaven, but the purpose of the climb is the return to earth, knowing that here is where God wants us to be and where he has given us work to do.”
I agree. There are more lofty ideals that just having jobs and making money, but there are no more basic ones, none more necessary. And once we understand the value of work in-and-of-itself, then perhaps we will begin to discern our true calling and vocation to work alongside our Creator.
 Lupton, Toxic Charity, 154.
Lupton, Toxic Charity, 152.
 Sacks, To Heal a Fractured World, 4-5.