Last week I wrote about Jason, the homeless, self-employed street-sweeper in Olympia, Washington. I only had enough space to say a little about how Jason seemed to blossom because of his work. This week, I would like to say a little more about how we choose work and that our work helps us become who we are meant to be.
Saint John Paul II’s letter Laborem Exercens focuses on human labor. In this document, the late Holy Father points out that human nature reveals our need for work. He first references the Genesis account of the story of creation. God made us free to work and “subdue” creation. God creates, and since we are made in God’s image, we are tasked with creating, too. Creating artwork, creating new relationships, creating computer software, or creating whatever you create, that’s our work.
But we don’t need Scripture to see this truth. We all know the very real satisfaction at the end of a hard day’s work, the exhaustion following a sports practice, and the joy we share with others as we present our landscaping or quilting to those we love.
Not only do we work for the good of creation or for the good of others, work, “is a good thing for man.” Jason’s self-chosen work of sweeping streets “builds up” his life as a homeless man. He finds meaning serving his community. Jason wanted to do something good for his community in Olympia. The smile on his face and sense of purpose in his voice told me that Jason’s work is also a good thing for him.
Work helps us become more of who we are called to be. If you have ever seen a mother smile as her children enjoy a dinner that took all day (or longer) to cook, or if you've ever seen the proud sigh of a father watching his children enjoy a new play-set that took hours to assemble (and reassemble), then you have seen how work helps us become more of who we are. We are all called to work in our chosen vocations.
When I am having a tough day doing the “work” of seminary formation—or this summer as a student hospital chaplain—it’s powerful to recall that what I put into my work influences who I am becoming, each moment. Work, though sometimes tough, is God’s gift to us.
Originally published in the South Gibson Star Times