In the early Church, some Christians felt that there was little need to work. After all, the end of the world was coming soon. What need was there to focus on such trivial matters as earning one's daily bread?
St. Paul worked to put an end to this attitude, advising the Thessalonians, "If anyone will not work, let him not eat" (2 Thes 3:10). All too often we view work as a curse, part of the punishment from the Garden of Eden. We could have spent our lives blissfully relaxed and happy, but thanks to original sin, now we have to worry about where our food, clothes and shelter are going to come from. And once we have the food, clothes, and shelter, we need to work at cooking, cleaning and maintaining them!
It is so easy to get caught up in the drudgery of work, but what if it had a higher purpose? What if work was actually a form of prayer? St. Benedict, in his famous monastic rule, mandated that each day be divided among prayer, study, and work, with each area carrying equal importance. Robert Ellsberg, writing in The Saint's Guide to Holiness, tells us that "The aim of monastic life is a state in which there is no artificial division between the sacred domain of prayer and the 'worldly' activity of labor. Prayer is itself a form of work — the opus Dei ('work of God') — while manual labor ideally should become a form of prayer."
How then, do we raise the work of our hands to this level? How do we give greater meaning to the ways we spend our days? The most important step is simply to have the intention. Begin by offering God your day. Do all that you do for the glory of God, whether that is sweeping the floor, changing diapers, working in an office, or running a multi-national corporation. Take pride in whatever you do.
Sometimes it is easy to think that one's work doesn't matter, especially if it seems to have little impact on the world at large. At home, we sweep the floor only to have to sweep it again tomorrow. We clean the bathrooms only for them to get dirty again. We make dinner and are hungry again in a few hours. In an office, we might wonder if selling the widget of the moment really matters. After all, there are people out there doing amazing things to change the world. Surely their lives, their work, matter more than ours?
God does not call us all to do the same thing, but God does call us to bring our all to our work. Whether our work is in the home or in the larger community, we touch lives. Our work matters. We have the opportunity to love our neighbors, to change the world by one small interaction at a time. We can take pride in whatever product we might be involved in making or selling, thinking of the person who might ultimately own it. Yes, our work does have value. It has value for our own lives by providing us with purpose, it has value to the world at large, and it has value to God when we offer it to God as part of our daily prayer.
[Editors note: For more on the value of work and how to get more work done with less effort, join this author and others at the new Catholic Exchange Blog – CE On Time — devoted to personal productivity.]