What I urged then was a thoroughgoing revolution in our whole attitude to work. I asked that it should be looked upon, not as a necessary drudgery to be undergone for the purpose of making money, but as a way of life in which the nature of man should find its proper exercise and delight and so fulfill itself to the glory of God. That it should, in fact, be thought of as a creative activity undertaken for the love of the work itself; and that man, made in God’s image, should make things, as God makes them, for the sake of doing well a thing that is well worth doing. – Dorothy Sayer, “Why Work”
The year after college, I spent a lot of time talking and thinking about how to engage this world in which I find myself. Much time was spent talking about work and calling and vocation. Prior to the year I spent intentionally thinking about these things, I will confess that I did not frequently concern myself with pondering an ethic of work. Work was inevitable, and it seemed also inevitable that even if I was so fortunate to find myself getting paid to do something that I loved, it would still be a drudgery most of the time.
Then, I was introduced (or I suppose re-introduced) to Dorothy Sayers.
In her essay “On Work”, part of which is quoted above, Sayers spends time talking about why it is that we work. Work is not inherently a bad thing. Work was commanded to Adam before sin came into the world; work became hard after the fall, but was required in the garden as well. According to Sayers, we work “for the sake of doing well a thing that is well worth doing”. It is this phrase which has captured my imagination for the last few years.
What is “well worth doing”? What does that even mean? My job typically consists of sitting in a semi-comfortable chair in a florescently-lit room staring as a computer screen for several hours a day. This monotony is broken up by the occasional phone call or meeting. Is this “well worth doing”? I’m not saving lives; some days, I’m not even sure I’m helping lives. Sometimes, it seems like I am enabling people to make a worse mess out of their lives than how I found them. Is this “well worth doing”? It doesn’t seem so.
Influencing my thoughts on this is a woman named Paige Benton Brown who I have heard speak a few times. She talks about “kingdom work”, that which is done by Christians around the world, but not really done through the church. She says that kingdom work is that which pushes back the darkness of the world. So that which is “well worth doing” is that which makes strides to reverse the effects of the fall.
That is helpful for me. In my job which often deals very personally with the worst in other people, I can get on board with framing this around reversing the fall. My job is to research the effects of the fall.
I study how the brokenness of people affects their lives and the lives of our society. By researching the bad things, I help to form new ideas for ways to stop the bad and improve the good. The work is slow. Most days, it’s hard to move past being saturated by the bad. But some days, a light shines through.