Christopher Easley

Work Meditations - Series Title Image

Bread for the Journey

In the old hymn we sing:
And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own.
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

The place where we “tarry” in the hymn is “the garden”—a metaphor for prayer, and a good one. The writer suggests that we walk with Jesus in a place lush with beauty, reminded of God’s care in the roses and the melody of birdsong.

But consider where the hymn was written. It came from the pen of C. Austin Miles, a pharmacist and editor, whose great-granddaughter asserts that he wrote it “in a cold, dreary and leaky basement in Pitman, New Jersey that didn’t even have a window in it let alone a view of a garden.”

Work is like that. We want to hold the world of beauty in our hearts, but we find ourselves in a leaky basement, a sterile elevator, a windowless office. Even if we enjoy working in a setting of natural beauty, work itself imposes more scurrying than tarrying, more urgent productivity than quiet contemplation.

Work Meditations - Series Title Image

Have Mercy on Me, a Worker!

Do you remember smiley-face stickers and gold stars? In elementary school, some of my teachers loved putting them on papers before handing them back.

We still get stickers now, as adults, especially at work: praise from colleagues, feedback from bosses, promotions, raises, and more. Whenever I fail, it’s like I’ve lost a sticker, or been given one with a frowny-face.

In my experience, working with gracious colleagues, the frowny-face is internal. It’s not that someone else gets mad at me when I fail, it’s that I get mad at myself. My own inner critic is a hard taskmaster, one that’s performance-oriented rather than growth-oriented.

Think about the last time you tried for something important at work, and it didn’t go well. Who was your worst critic?

What Work Can I Do Best?: Take 2

A few weeks ago, I put out a post answering the question, “What work can I do best?” I wrote that instead of setting our hopes on our job as a source of fulfillment that aligns with a special call from God on our life, we need to simply and faithfully do whatever work is before us today. We can fulfill God’s call to faith and holiness right where we are, even if our work doesn’t feel particularly fulfilling.

Since then, a couple readers have pushed back on the way I framed things, and their thoughtfulness has led me to think through the question in new terms. So this post is “Take 2” of “What work can I do best?”

In Christ, we find unexpected opportunities to fulfill our longing for significance, but grounded in a reality that also makes sense of our suffering and unfulfilled dreams: the cross of Christ.

Why Work?

If you won a hundred million dollar lottery tomorrow, would you quit your day job?

If you quit, what would you do with your time instead?

A volunteer who works with retirees once told me about a friend of his, a hard-driving executive who loved the Cubs. He always wished he had more time in between his work commitments to make it out to Wrigley. After decades of the corporate grind, he had saved enough to retire in style, with season tickets.

But it turns out you can only watch so many baseball games. Six weeks after retiring, he was back at the office.

Where Does My Work Make a Difference?

Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic began, conversations about the tradeoffs between remote work and work in the office have intensified. These tradeoffs are usually framed in terms of power, preferences, and productivity. We talk about the power struggle when employee preferences and employer preferences conflict. We talk about how work arrangements affect the enterprise as a whole, and whether working from home works.

These ways of framing the conversation have their place, but they don’t show the whole picture. For one thing, workers whose jobs can’t be done remotely often get ignored. Whenever the topic of remote work comes up, my carpenter/general contractor uncle quips, “They haven’t figured out how to make my job remote yet.”

And for those of us who seek to follow Jesus, there’s another dimension to the conversation that we need to consider: How does where I work serve God’s purposes in the world? Does where I work make a difference in loving God and loving my neighbor? Or, to put the same question another way: Where does my work make a difference?

When Can I Work? When Can I Rest?

Are you tempted to do too much work, or too little?

An honest answer to that question will vary from person to person. Some people are disengaged at work—they’re giving less than their all to work, even during work hours. Others are workaholics—they can’t disengage from work, even during “time off.”

Between these two dysfunctions lies the elusive experience of being highly engaged at work, but free to rest when not working. You’re present at work and work hard, and you’re present to a life outside of work and rest well.

For followers of Jesus, an honest self-assessment about our relationship with work is a vital element of our relationship with God. In his teachings and life, Jesus explains and models what working and resting with God can look like. When we see both work and rest as aspects of our union with God, it transforms both.

What Work Can I Do Best?

The calling that all of us have is not to an immensely fulfilling job, but rather to live our life with Jesus in whatever job we have. It’s true that investment bankers and chemists and editors can do their work with spiritual depth and beautiful fruit just as much as missionaries or pastors. But it’s also true that bus drivers and shelf stockers and janitors can do their work with spiritual depth and beautiful fruit just as much as investment bankers and chemists and editors. It’s not the job that makes the difference, it’s Jesus.

Who Are You Working For?

At first it might seem like working a job for the sake of what we get out of it is inevitable. Would you still show up to your job if you didn’t get paid? But there’s a shift in attitude that can bring immense freedom to the way we do our work. We do work “for ourselves,” but in a roundabout way. Doing our work for the sake of others ends up working to our advantage, because it makes us into the kind of people we truly long to become.

bird's-eye view of a man typing on a laptop, checking his watch

I’m Too Busy to Do It All

I’m too busy to do it all. The more “behind” I am, the more angsty I get, and that’s not pleasant for anyone. For me, being too busy is almost synonymous with being worried.

In contrast to my own short-on-time angst, I know certain people who radiate a sense of peace. I often wonder, how do they do that? They’re not superhuman, and it’s not as though they have fewer responsibilities than I do. Somehow, they’ve managed to find a solid spiritual center in the middle of the demands of life. That’s the kind of spiritual center I want in my life.

Photo of a faucet with water running.

Plumber on a Mission: Caleb Iler of Journeymen Plumbing

There were a couple times when we tried to take the keys back from God like, “No, no, we’re gonna control this.” And then one of us would stop and go, “Hang on. What are we doing right now? And why are we doing it?” Then we’d stop, refocus, hand the keys back to God. And boom, the week would be booked out. And it’s just like—Wow, it’s really cool what God does when you just trust him. This whole season of our life has just been,”Trust God, it will be okay.” It’s really cool to see him move in that.