A few weeks ago, when he heard I was in between jobs, an acquaintance mentioned that he hoped I was “able to enjoy this time of rest.” At the time I nodded my head and smiled politely, but inside, I was aghast.
“Enjoy this time of rest?” I harrumphed. I was out of a job, at a crossroads in my career. I lay awake in the middle of the night pondering whether I should dust off my resume and beef up my LinkedIn profile or send out my current book proposal to yet another round of publishers. As far as I could see, if there was ever a time to work my tail off, this was it.
In the weeks that have passed, though, I’ve had some time to consider my friend’s comment and my indignant reaction to it. This period of uncertainty has illustrated just how much I value productivity and how strongly I link my work to my definition of self-worth.
Producing something tangible – whether book chapters or baskets of clean, folded clothes – is how I define my value in this world. If I’m not busy, if I’m not “hard at it,” as my mother-in-law used to say, I’m not “contributing.” And if I’m not contributing, well then who am I and what’s my purpose in this world?
Productivity is good. God created us, among other reasons, to work; that’s why he tasked Adam with caring for the Garden of Eden. But like anything good, our work can easily morph from a gift to an idol.
When Jesus visited Mary and Martha’s house for dinner, Luke tells us his gospel, Martha rushed around like a maniac in the kitchen while her sister Mary simply sat at Jesus’ feet, soaking up his presence and wisdom. Finally, having worked herself into a resentful frenzy, Martha complained to Jesus, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
Martha and I are clearly cut from the same cloth, and I always cringe a little when I read Jesus’ response to her bitter lament:
“Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed – indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
I suspect a lot of us fall into this trap. We’re so bent on working, producing and having something tangible to show for our efforts, we lose sight of “what is better,” the one and only true necessity: our relationship with God.
We’re so busy defining ourselves by how much and how well we produce, we forget that our worth is not based on what we do, but simply on who we are. The truth is, the only self-definition that really matters is that each of us is loved by God.
I’m still looking for a job these days, but I’m also resting in the knowledge that while my work is important, it does not define who I am. God values our work and our accomplishments, but not at the expense of “what is better” – an authentic relationship with him and the understanding, deep in our hearts and souls, that we are loved, no matter what.
Note: This post originally ran in the Lincoln Journal Star on February 28, 2015.