On the birthday of humanity, God creates male and female. Then we read, “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’”
Essentially, God says, “Get to work. You’ve got people to create, things to manage, work to do.”
It isn’t until later we read, “with painful labor you will give birth to children,” “through painful toil you will eat food from it (the ground) all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food.”
What starts as a gift, a partnership with God in work and stewardship, becomes how most of us probably feel about work today, a painful toil. Maybe your “thistles and thorns” are spreadsheets, meetings, deadlines, or employee reviews; they have become obstacles and annoyances. This wasn’t the original design for work. Work was meant to be a joyful life-giving process in partnership with God’s unique design of you, and His divine placement through each season.
We believe one of the culprits behind a diminished sense of purpose within work is a misplaced sense of responsibility. I recently heard a phrase that captures this idea. The phrase was “false responsibilities”- the idea that the things we take on as our work may not be what was intended by God. Originally, Adam and Eve had their tasks laid out, but temptation arrived and they began to map their own agenda. “Surely this job is not what God intended, perhaps there is better work, higher level responsibilities, more recognizable things to be accomplished.” God’s intent to be in partnership with the work we do is often substituted for false responsibilities.
Most of us have experienced envy when that co-worker received acknowledgement. Many have felt a surge of insecurity when we notice someone over their quota of time bending the boss’ ear. I know I have allowed bitterness to grow after deciding to take on deadlines that belonged to others, shouldering tasks that I was never assigned. This is when we begin to pick up false responsibilities. We tell ourselves stories of how we were more deserving, or how we would manage that project at a superior level, or twist servanthood by repeatedly assigning ourselves other’s duties. Seeds are planted and we begin a journey separated from the work God has laid before us, neglecting our own real responsibilities.
One afternoon I was waiting for a meeting with a member of ABBA’s board, Tony Budet. In the midst of small talk I made a comment about dragging myself from meeting to meeting. He shared, “I remember feeling like that. I hated meetings. But then I realized meetings were my job. I was convicted that God wanted me to see meetings as an important part of my work rather than as an obstacle.” Think of an aspect of your work that you would love to avoid. Now imagine seeing that aspect through a lens like Tony shared, as an important part of the work you are assigned for this season.
Some things are not ours to know. Not all tasks are ours to own. Items that bore us may be exactly what we need to be doing. Perhaps those meetings and memos are a more important part of your work than you realize. That is why staying connected with God within our work is so vital. Through dialogue with Him we are able to discern where we are called to invest our efforts and energy. A consistent stream of communication helps us stick to the task in His hands rather than grasping for false responsibilities. It is when we find ourselves latching on to God’s plan for others, determined to grab an unordained outcome, that we might end up cast out of what is already a beautifully created agenda for our career. Maybe work becomes “painful toil” when our eyes are fixed on “fruit” that was not intended to be on our plate to begin with.
We are easily distracted by false responsibilities. Proverbs 4 reads, “Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.” A simple reminder to focus on your work, allowing God to guide you. When we move through work as pain and toil, picking up false responsibilities, we miss the opportunity to participate in a bigger picture designed for creation, we miss the opportunity to connect with purpose.