Women work, and they work hard. In 2013, the Department of Labor reported 57 percent of women work full or part time. That same report places the number of mothers (with children under 18 years old) working outside the home—part time or full time—at nearly 70 percent. Other studies show women spend consistently more time on housework, cooking, and childcare than men.
Every day, we spend more time working than anything else. When the work is good, we find life and purpose in our jobs. Being able to create, cultivate, and steward our skills and resources puts us in touch with our Creator, who has given us a desire to contribute to the world in meaningful ways. But when work is hard, it can be difficult to connect our daily routine to our Creator. If anything, we feel less creative, less free, less like ourselves. When it comes to our work, most of us experience seasons of “good” and seasons of “hard.” So whichever season you are in, how can we each bring our unique, creative selves to all of it—whether it’s flipping an egg in the pan or programming formulas into a spreadsheet? Let’s explore together how you can find joy in the work God’s given you, starting right now.
When we follow Jesus, we are committing to an everyday experience. The original word for “disciple” in Scripture is also translated as “learner” or “student.” When we place our feet on
the ground in the morning, we are invited to begin another day as students of Jesus. It doesn’t matter what kind of work that day involves—it’s still an open invitation to follow him.
It’s easy to assume God treats our work like the world treats our work—categorizing its importance by salary or influence or cultural norms of success. But Jesus walked into the everyday reality of the world and turned that understanding of importance completely upside down. Jesus invited people from every social strata and every economic background to join him. Look at who Jesus attracts: his disciples are custodians and CEOs, stay-at-home moms and surgeons, preschool teachers and politicians. He makes no distinction in our importance by what we do—he cares about who we are.
In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37), Jesus raises the stakes. The cast of characters in the parable includes an expert in the law (an attorney), a priest, a temple worker, and a “despised Samaritan” (verse 33). In this story, Jesus taught the law expert that his desire to understand how to be a good neighbor doesn’t have anything to do with understanding the rules or doing the right kind of job. In fact, it’s the one character
in the story the law expert would expect nothing from—the “despised Samaritan”—who ends up actually doing the work of the law. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus makes a point to separate the work of following him from the work that pays the bills. This is good news for all of us who wonder if our work matters. If you are tempted to make your importance in God’s kingdom related to your “importance” on earth, know that Jesus lived a life that defied that expectation, and he invites us to do the same.
As you begin your work today, you can start with a commitment to Jesus. A simple prayer might help: Jesus, I want to follow you today—to be your student. Open my heart to receive your instruction as I work, to notice what you are doing around me, and to respond to it.
When we pray daily to follow Jesus, we are more in tune with the partnership of the Holy Spirit. A friend who recently went to work for a large corporation after several years in ministry told me that she struggled to see how she was doing “important work” in her office. It wasn’t until a coworker thanked her for how she encouraged her daily that her eyes were opened to see her call to minister in the workplace. “Work with enthusiasm, as though you
were working for the Lord rather than for people,” Ephesians 6:7 says. Bringing our enthusiastic, joyful selves to any kind of work, no matter how menial, is the challenge God gives us.
The parable of the Good Samaritan reminds us our job is to be attentive to the needs around us. This might come in the form of an encouraging word to our children as we pick them up from school, or a well-designed presentation that shows our dedication and enthusiasm to our work. God calls us to a diligent life where he is always partnering with us to advance his kingdom. This brings a sense of adventure to our ordinary days—where we are always attentive to the quiet whisperings of our comforter and coach, the Holy Spirit.
Yesterday I began my work with the first two steps—praying to follow Jesus and being attentive to partnering with the Holy Spirit—for about 20 minutes. But by the time I emptied the dishwasher, packed lunches, drove morning carpool, sent an overdue email, and—oh, yeah—showered, I left late for my first meeting. By 9:30 A.M., I wanted the day to be over. I was irritated and behind in my work, much more concerned with what I was (or wasn’t) getting done than I was with cultivating inner joy! But it is in these unattractive moments that we learn our next lesson of the day: God is deeply concerned with our heart and mildly interested in our work.
The good news that Jesus Christ brings is that our heavenly Father cares about who we are much more than what we do. In a revolutionary move, God changes up our ideas of success because he cares most about what we need most. He is someone who loves us fiercely, completely, and deeply—loving us into the person he knows we can be. Every irritation, every failure, every conflict, every unsolved problem is an opportunity to draw near to him.
If I could go back to 9:30 yesterday, I would stop and take a deep breath. I would thank God for the small gifts and find something to praise him for. Then I would continue with my day. Because within our work we find refinement for our character, and even though it’s hard, it’s worth celebrating.
Author and theologian Dallas Willard was known for describing Jesus with one word: relaxed. One of the things hard workers often miss is the joy of relaxing—but I don’t mean the kind of
relaxing that comes with a nap or a good book. This kind of relaxing is an inner setting that is at rest and at peace regardless of the work required. Jesus, our example of how to really live, was relaxed. Even in the pressure of the crowds, the conflict of the Pharisees, and the confusion of his disciples, Jesus was relaxed. Yes, he worked hard, but he did it without striving or anxiety.
You may think trying to follow Jesus into relaxation is impossible. I think it is—outside of the work of his grace. But if it sounds good to you, if you wish you could learn better how to balance work and rest, then you can do something different today: celebrate. Choose to see the creative, expansive, beautiful ways God is filling your workday, from a blue sky to a great joke to a helpful coworker.
Helped a meeting make progress? Celebrate. Hugged your kids when they got off the bus? Celebrate. Made a healthy weeknight dinner? Yep. Hip, hip, hooray!
We are relaxed when we celebrate the little things. Our perspective changes, our spirits lift, and we have more energy for the harder tasks. We don’t wait until we feel like celebrating—we just do it. And in small ways, in “pebbles and shoots” as author Anne Lamott writes, we are changed.
You have an opportunity tomorrow to start with a fresh perspective on your workday. You can commit to follow Jesus, pray for his partnership, and be attentive to his refinement. You can celebrate the little things as a spiritual practice of relaxing into him, even in the most stressful of circumstances. What a gift we have in our call to live with purpose and freedom in the midst of a world that’s so often anxious and joyless. We have Jesus, we have hope, and we can bring that with us no matter where our work takes us!
Nicole Unice is a TCW regular contributor. Nicole is on the ministry staff of Hope Church and author of Brave Enough (Tyndale House Publishers, August 2015) and She’s Got Issues. She writes for a variety of magazines and speaks nationwide at retreats and leadership events. Nicole and her husband, Dave, have three children. You can find her blogging about honest living at NicoleUnice.com.
Finding Joy in the 9 to 5
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