A Worker’s Prayer: On the Meaning of Work
It’s been five months since I quit teaching. For three months I worked forty hours at Starbucks and read a lot: Hunger Games, The Lord of the Rings, Psalms, Surprised by Joy, Letters to a Young Poet. It’s been almost two months since I started work at a call center; forty hours there, twenty hours at Starbucks. I had hoped to work two jobs through Christmas, but when I got home one day and couldn’t stop crying, I gave my two-weeks at Starbucks. So now both familiar jobs, teaching and Starbucks, the ones that supported me in grad school, France, and when I returned to Louisville, are gone.
The reasons I’ve left these jobs are money and writing. I can’t complain about money, really. I have enough for rent and small luxuries, but not enough to save, travel, or buy my own car. You say, “Ah, so give up the small luxuries!” but what is life without chocolate, the occasional hamburger, and new gloves? My money problems are not grave, but as I approach thirty, it seems unwise to live month-to-month with no car, little savings, and intermittent health insurance. It also seems unwise to teach writing when I am unable to write. It’s wonderful to introduce students to poetry and learn from their perspectives, but I’ve found that planning and grading take all my creative energy, so that reading and writing, the things I love, the things I want my students to love, become chores for me, and outside of class I avoid them as much as possible. It’s as if I’m serving God and mammon, and I begin to hate teaching.
The thing is, I went to school seven years and taught and worked at Starbucks five years. Where do you go from there? Of the many possibilities, which one is right? If I’m uncertain what to do, my instinct is to stay as still as possible, read novels, and drink copious amounts of tea.
But as my Aunt Ev pointed out, “In order for God to direct your steps, you have to take a step.”
So the call center is a step. And this blog is a step. And I pray that God will lead me because I have no idea what I’m doing.
Many of my friends are in similar situations. Alia went to school for radiology and works at a restaurant. Erin loves her family, but wonders sometimes if her work as a housewife is meaningful. Laura studied literature and coordinated events for NYU, but she’s living at home now, tutoring online. We have a lot of questions about work, and I suspect many people share them.
The main questions as I see them are, first, “Where should work fit in our lives?” My tendency is to throw all time and energy into it, but this becomes an excuse for laziness in community, and it’s not healthy long-term. How can balance be achieved? Second, “Should our self-worth be dependent on work?” The titles of Waitress, Housewife, and Tutor do not fully define my friends; Call Center Representative does not define me. But is it any better to define ourselves as Mother or Writer and judge our worth by our children’s or poems’ success? Third, “What does it mean to ‘lose your life to gain it’ and ‘seek first the kingdom of God’?”
Sometimes I want to become a nun or missionary or start a not-for-profit pancake stand downtown, but the kingdom of God seems (usually) to call for patient, quiet pursuit more than for dramatic decisions.
How do we lose our lives and seek God’s kingdom in call centers, cubicles, homes, and factories? How do we run the race without sprinting and trudging in turns? How do we live well for the glory of God?
I hope to explore these questions by writing about artists’ views on work, reviewing self-help books, and interviewing fellow believers about work. Maybe we can’t figure it out exactly; maybe that’s the point of faith; but we can lend each other courage and perspective as we seek to live well in Christ.
Deanna Boulard lives in Louisville, and delights in windows, Bach, and marmalade. She has her MFA from the University of Maryland and worked as a language assistant in southern France. Sometimes she has flashbacks of her favorite views, which make it hard to see what’s in front of her. She would like to live every day aware that “the present is the point at which time touches eternity.”