Work is sacred . . . not only because it is the fruit of self- denial, patience and toil, but because it uncovers the soul of the worker.
Hamilton W. Mabie
Work, work, work. It would be glorious to see mankind at leisure for once.
Henry David Thoreau
Then comes Monday morning. Monday follows Sunday like the tail on a dog. I keep thinking maybe someday it won't, but it always does. And on Monday morning, life gets hard. The bustle of getting ready for church on Sunday is like a movie scene in slow motion compared to Monday. Weekday mornings are always chaotictoo many people need to use the bathroom at the same time; do all the kids have their lunch?; Danny needs a check for music lessons; who will drive Adam's project to school? Whether we're hurrying off to a job, racing to get to school on time, or facing a mountain of laundry and the leftover mess from the weekend, Monday morning hits us like a runaway train. I always find that on Mondays, by noon or before, I've forgotten. I've forgotten what seemed so urgent just the day before. I've forgotten Christ. I've not just forgotten that, somehow, I want him to be Lord of my whole life (not just my Sunday mornings); I've forgotten him altogether. Thoughts of God, Christ, scripture, or church don't even occur to me. This workaday week is such another world, a world totally other. The pace is other, the priorities are other, what matters and what doesn't, who matters and who doesn't, what I need to do and how I need to be while I'm doing itall are other. It's as if we go to sleep Sunday night on a ranch in Wyoming and wake up Monday morning in downtown Manhattan. And we wonder: Which world is real?
Which world is most important? Are these two worlds related at all?
If so, why do they feel so separate? Why is moving from one to another so jarring?
Is it possible to integrate the spirit of Sunday into the world of Monday through Saturday?
How? Given the hectic nature of each day, how do we remember even to try?
For me, the question became, Is there some way work itself can remind me to remember? I was thrilled to discover that the answer is yesa resounding, even thundering yes! Moreover, I believe work can be more than a reminder of lessons learned on Sunday; work has lessons of its own to teach. If we allow it, what we learn on Sunday will inform and affect what we do and learn Monday through Saturday. Likewise, what we do and learn Monday through Saturday informs and affects our experiences on Sunday. "The spirit and the body are the soul of man." (D&C 88:15.) The Sabbath and the workday, the sacred and the secular, are the soul of our lives. Though they often feel separate, different, other, they are not. All things are spiritual to the Lord. If I am to become more like my Heavenly Father, then all things must be spiritual to me also.
Before discussing how work can be more spiritual, I think it would be helpful to look at the nature of workwhat it is and what it isn't.
The requirement to work was punishment given to Adam and Eve for their transgression in the Garden of Eden, and it was punishment. From ancient times to the present, millions of human beings have been forced, either through slavery or harsh economic circumstances, to work at jobs that were brutal and cruel or mindless and boring. Consider these remarks from Working, by Studs Terkel: "This book being about work, is, by its very nature, about violenceto the spirit as well as to the body. fn You may think that sentiments such as those are found only "out there, in the world," but in a discussion on women in the workplace by Victor L. Brown, Jr., we read this: "Most working women, like most working men, will likely have marginal jobs with marginal pay and marginal satisfactions. Very few working people of either sex sit at large desks and enjoy high status, flexible hours, and lavish salaries; .002 percent of the general population are attorneys, .04 percent are business managers, and .0011 percent are life and physical scientists. Women's percentage of prestigious jobs is even less. Even if women could be granted fifty percent representation in high prestige professions, the majority of women (and men) would still have grinding, boring, and marginal employment." fn
That is not just true of work for pay. It is true of housework and schoolwork as well. All types of work contain elements of personal insult and violence to body and spirit, all contain elements of drudgery and boredom, and all are, at times, only marginally satisfying. However, that is not the whole truth about work, for all types of work can also be deeply satisfying.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote in Mormon Doctrine: "Work is the great basic principle which makes all things possible both in time and in eternity. . . . Work is a blessing that brings salvation, idleness a curse that assures damnation."
We've heard many a sermon along those lines. From the late eighteenth century to the end of the industrial revolution, writers like Samuel Johnson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Benjamin Franklin have extolled the virtues of work.
Is work a sacred activity that both develops and reveals our souls? Or is work grinding and boring, leaving body, mind, and soul heavy and numb?
I think we can safely say it is both. Work is often dull, repetitive, stressful, and marginally fulfilling. However, being without work is also dull and stressful and can hardly be seen as fulfilling or satisfying. Moreover, work and how we respond to the demands of work does develop and reveal our souls. Some types of work are inherently more effective at developing and revealing souls: medicine, teaching, parenting, creative work, and particularly relevant or stimulating schoolwork, for example. However, those types of work still contain elements of drudgery. Likewise, jobs that seem inherently dull or mundane, such as assembly line work or heavy manual labor, still have the capacity to develop and reveal the soul of the worker. How does work develop and reveal our souls? Knowing that work can help us in that way, how can we enlarge the development and benefit from the revealing?...
Revealing OurselvesRevealing God
Discipline, evaluation, striving for excellence, and developing personal integritythese are common experiences of the workplace that help develop character. But developing character isn't enough. I said at the beginning that work can develop and reveal our souls. A soul is more than character. To develop one's soul implies a deep spiritual effort, and to be spiritual implies a connection to God.
Many people, both in and out of the Church, hunger for a deeper connection to God in their daily lives. How do we get that connection? What are we really after? Why do we sometimes hurry through busy days, wondering, "Is this all there is?" I don't know about you, but I need more. I need meaning and I need God shining through and revealing himself around me. I think most of us do. We need to see, understand, and experience God. We also need to know and understand ourselves. We want to know our strengths and our weaknesses, why we do what we do, and how we can do better. Finally, we want to know that these two things connect. We want to know that God loves and accepts us as we are, and we want to experience him helping us become even better, every day and in every situation. We are in luck, because the revealing of God, of ourselves, and of the connection between ourselves and God occurs all around us, and it occurs a lot at work. The key to seeing it is awareness.
We start by becoming aware of what work teaches us about ourselves. Do we approach our work eagerly or reluctantly? Are we fast or slow, careful or sloppy? What do we do well? Are we kind or harsh, encouraging or critical? If we but pay attention to what we do and how we are while we are doing it, we can learn a great deal about ourselves. As we work at this learning and then at improving, we can invite our Heavenly Father into the process to help us bring our behavior and attitudes closer to his. Once we start inviting our Heavenly Father into our efforts at work, we have done a great thingwe have started to think about God while we are at work. We have opened our minds and thus our consciousness to the possibility of God's presence in the workplace. Then we are ready for the next step, looking for ways God might reveal himself to us at work.
We are accustomed to thinking of God as revealing himself through prayer, scripture study, dreams and visions, and even historybut through work? Well, of course. We need only remember how God reveals himself most often. Think of Moses, Joseph Smith, Abraham, Lehi, Nephi, Ruth, Mary, your bishop, or your visiting teacher; God most often reveals himself through the lives, actions, and words of people. Workplaces are therefore a veritable treasure- house. They are not only filled with people, but they are also filled with many different kinds of people. Work is often the only place where we are exposed to any cultural diversity. Because of that diversity, God can reveal himself to us in new and sometimes surprising or challenging ways.
I live in a ward in the suburbs of Boston. Over the years I've seen six or seven bishops come and go. Most of them have been successful businessmen. Many of them have been required to travel extensively in relation to their work. I remember two of them relating stories of personal encounters in foreign lands that profoundly affected their spiritual lives. One bishop told of spending a week in Mexico with a Mexican executive and his family. The man was highly successful, wealthy, powerful, intelligent, and articulate. He was also a devout Catholic and was deeply committed to his family. He led his family in daily devotions, actively taught his children, and often made sacrifices at work to make time for his family. He and our bishop had several long discussions about the importance of the family and the need to keep work and family commitments in balance. The second bishop spent a week in India with a similarly successful Hindu man. They also spent time discussing the importance of devotion to God and family. In addition, they discussed the responsibility of wealth and position. Our bishop discovered that his Hindu counterpart was deeply involved in helping solve some of India's social problems. Both bishops came home from their travels humbled and challenged to increase their commitments to the Lord and to their families.
Cultural diversity can also result in exposure to ideas, perspectives, and ways of being that we might not otherwise encounter or consider. Diversity can challenge us to alter or expand our world view, to reassess our understanding of how God works with all of his children. It can shed a fresh new light on basic assumptions with which we've become overly comfortable. Finally, diversity can bring us face-to-face with people who, without the benefit of the Church, have reached a level of spiritual maturity that dwarfs our own and through whom we might suddenly see the essence of true religion. We may be meeting in a conference room, conversing with a friend during our morning break, lecturing in front of a class, or laying pipe at a construction site when something is said or done, andsurprise!like Paul on the road to Damascus or Jacob in the desert wrestling with an angel, we see something we never saw before, understand something we never understood before, or have a problem we never had before. Because nonmembers and non-Christians express themselves with different words or interpret their experiences in different ways, or, sometimes, because their experiences or understanding are so similar to ours even though they are not members of the Church, they can open our minds and hearts to new ideas, new feelings, or new insights and understanding. They can even open our minds and hearts to see God.
As I said before, I work in a hospital laboratory. The hospital is large, but the laboratory is isolated, with only fifteen employees. Among them are several agnostics, an atheist, two born-again Christians, three Jews, a Muslim, and a Hindu.
One of them is a woman who works full-time, has three children, is a liberal Unitarian, and, in spite of her busy schedule, bakes bread once a month and takes it to a shelter for homeless women in downtown Boston.
One of them is a woman who works part-time, has two children, and attends school part-time earning a degree in landscape architecture. Several years ago she volunteered her time to design and help plant a garden outside the hospital's Cancer Care Center. Each year she supervises volunteers in planting hundreds of bulbs in the garden.
One of them is a born-again Christian who is a former drug addict and homosexual. She now teaches a Bible study group at a local prison each week. She taught me more about the relationship between grace and works than dozens of Sunday School lessons.
All three Jewish people who work on my shift make it a point to volunteer to work on Christmas and Easter so their Christian co-workers can have those days off.
My view of history was deepened in a discussion with a Jewish co-worker who had lived in Israel for several years.
I was introduced to a wealth of wonderful spirit-centered books through people at work. Because of co-workers, I have read such authors as Madeline L'Engle, Polly Berends, C. S. Lewis, and Frederich Beuchner.
It was a Catholic co-worker who helped a technician on the verge of a nervous breakdown one night. When I complimented her later, she said, "My heart just went out to her. What else could I do?" She taught me how to be responsive to need.
One winter we had an inordinate amount of backbiting and gossip in the lab between two cliques. I watched a co-worker "clique-hop" back and forth between the two groups, smoothing things out. She taught me what it means to be a peacemaker. Time and time again at work, my understanding of what it means to live the gospel, to follow Christ, and to be a child of God has been redefined, expanded, and enlarged. It is through these experiences of diverse people from diverse backgrounds that I have come to understand the truth of the scripture in Acts that opens this book: "He made from one all nations of men; that they might seek God!"
As an aside I want you to know that the people who have taught me these wonderful lessons are the same ones who occasionally swear or tell dirty stories. Do I mind? Well, maybe I do now and then, but I love these people. I cherish what they have taught me. I value who I have become because of their example. And in their lives and their stories, I see the hand of God.
Jobs, which demand so much of our time and often draw forth our deep emotional commitment, challenge us to define our values and establish our priorities. Those who work forty hours a week or more will never equally balance work, family, and church in terms of time. However, a balance must be struck in terms of value and priority. We must not compromise our values in order to succeed at work. We must not sacrifice our family relationships in order to succeed at work. And, finally, we must remain conscious of our values and priorities while we are at work. Work takes up the bulk of our time, attention, study, planning, and goal setting. Family, church, and spiritual matters can become inconvenient distractions, whining around our ears like mosquitoes in the night. When they become sufficiently annoying, we impatiently slap at them before returning our attention to our work. Work and career can become so important to us that even personal values can be pushed aside as we rush after the goal of success. Hugh Nibley describes the dangers of compromising values for the sake of the job in this discussion of careers:
Careerism is the determination to reign in hell rather than serve in heaven. "From the moment a person starts treating his life as a career, worry is his constant companion. . . . Careerism results not only in constant anxiety, but also in an underdeveloped heart. . . . The careerist constantly betrays himself, since he must ignore idealistic, compassionate and courageous impulses that might jeopardize his career."
"Perfect love casts out all fear," said the Lord, but who wants that if it jeopardizes one's career? Satan's promise to split Adam and Eve was accomplished when God declared, "My people have sold themselves for gold and silver."
When work and career become our top priority; when our jobs, which already consume so much of our time, also become the focus of all our attention, we are in trouble. Moreover, this is an easy trap to fall into. How do we avoid it? How do we strike a balance? The solution is simple to state though difficult to achieve. The solution is to bring a spiritual focus into our everyday lives. I believe we must bring the Savior to work with us.
The Prophet Micah tells us how to go about serving God. He declares that we do not serve God in our temples with our offerings, rituals, or prayers:
Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? [Or with perfect sacrament meeting attendance or hundreds of endowments performed?] Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God. (Micah 6:6-8.)
Where are we to do justlyonly at church on Sunday? When are we to love mercyonly when we are home teaching? How can we ever learn to walk humbly with God if we don't do it every day? Forty hours a week, at work, we must do justly. Forty hours a week, at work, we must seek mercy. Forty hours a week, we must humbly invite God to walk with us.
Work, whether at home or in a job, provides us with a great opportunity to choose God. If we lived in a monastery and spent our days in scripture study and prayer, it would all be so easy. That is not what God has asked us to do. He has placed us in the world. Work provides the perfect setting to meet that challenge. The very tension work creates, the very attraction to be career- focused, is the very opportunity to choose God and to actively demonstrate the depth of our commitment to serve him above all else.
Our former stake president is W. Mitt Romney, son of George Romney. In the fall of 1994 he ran a political campaign in an effort to unseat Ted Kennedy. Because of Kennedy's prominence, the campaign was thoroughly covered in the media, with many newspaper articles on Mitt Romney. It was interesting to see how many of those articles focused on Romney's personal life. It was even more interesting to see what they revealed. Although highly successful and very busy, President Romney would start many of his days with hospital visits to sick members of the Church. His calendar book not only noted business and church appointments but also events in the lives of his wife and children. He even kept track of how many nights he was away from home for his children's bedtime, making sure they were not too many and that he was regularly at home in the evening to be with his children. Here is a man who has used the tension between work and other values to declare and deepen his commitment to the Lord and to his family.
Finally, even without character development, exposure to diversity, and helping to define values, work is spirit-filled; in fact, the process of work glows from within like rocks touched by the finger of God. I firmly believe that everything we do contains an underlying spiritual principle. I wonder about work. What could it be? What spiritual principle underlies and shines through work? Is work about faith? No. Charity? Not usually. Purity? No. Order? Sometimes, not always. Beauty? No. Power? Yes. That's it, isn't it. Work requires and calls forth our power to do, to create (both objects and ideas), to identify and solve problems, to foresee and evaluate consequences for good or evil, and to make decisions and choices. Are these powers attributes of God? Yes! Do we become more like God when we develop these powers in ourselves and use them for good? Yes! Will we need these powers in the celestial kingdom, where we will create worlds without end? Yes! Work is sacred! With the help of the Lord, our work can help sanctify and exalt us. Welcome, welcome, Monday morning. Go work...
Jobs, housework, schoolsecular activities all, associated with the world and worldliness; yet this is the context within which the gospel must be lived. These are the activities that consume the bulk of our time. These are our lives. Heavenly Father did not send us to earth just to mark time until we could return to him. He sent us here to learn to make choices; take responsibility; create order, purity, and beauty; and gain knowledge and understanding. He sent us here to work.
(Joan B. MacDonald, The Holiness of Everyday Life [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1995], 3.)