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The meaning of work

In her book Creed or Chaos (1949) Dorothy Sayers argues that the modern tendency identifies work as gainful employment. “The fallacy being that work is not the expression of man’s creative energy in the service of society, but only something he does in order to obtain money and leisure.” A surgeon told Sayers that “nobody works for the sake of getting the thing done. The actual result of the work is a by-product; the aim of the work is to make money to do something else.” Sayers argues we should work with our whole hearts for the work’s sake, as an expression of the divine image of creativeness in us.

I agree with Sayers that it is not helpful to define work only as the activity we do in order to receive money to do other things. It reduces the value of work to the amount of money it can be exchanged for. The person working ceases to care whether or not his or her actual work is producing something good. There is nothing wrong with working only for money. It is often necessary. However, there is something wrong with believing the only meaningful work is that which can be exchanged for money.

Defining work as that which can be exchanged for money also excludes many valuable types of work that are unpaid. One example is motherhood. Some feminists have identified unpaid work as drugery, while paid work is somehow more fulfilling. G. K. Chesterton nails this assumption: "Nine times out of ten, the only difference is that the one person is drudging for people she does care for and the other drudging for people she does not care for. " I never like to say that ____ does not work. I prefer to say that ____ works at home. The work prioritized at home may well be more fulfilling, and more useful, than paid work outside of it.

When I completed my degree, I only had about 1 and a half days paid work each week. However, this was not the only work I did. I cooked, wrote, did house work for my mother, sewed, took care of Esther while her parents worked, and completed other unpaid work. I was busy all the time, and wondered how I would fit in everything I wanted to do! My unpaid work was, to me, just as meaningful and useful as my paid work. I am now completing paid working up to my capacity, three days a week. Any more of this would be very difficult to manage with current back pain levels. Due to completing this amount of paid work, I have cut back on important unpaid work like cooking. I am sure that everyone can identify with this tension, especially those who work full time.

Most people have to complete paid work to support themselves, and so unpaid work will be limited. However, we still don't have to fall into the trap of thinking only paid work is meaningful. We can learn to value work for what it produces, how it expresses our creativity as God's image bearers, and how it furthers our mandate to take dominion over the earth, rather than solely on the basis of the pay check. Some paid jobs contribute little to the true goals of work, while unpaid work may further God's kingdom. In chosing paid work, I try to think hard about whether or not this work is truly something that is valuable in itself or if I am just doing it for the money. I would not volunteer to work in my present job, so I am doing it for the money, but at the same time I believe it to be valuable work in both a temporal and an eternal sense. I value it not only for the pay check, but also for what it produces.

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