Written By Matthew Geddes, Canada
After another night with only a few hours of sleep, I am in front of my computer preparing for my day. I am in the basement. It’s dark and cold. I feel tired. I wonder if I should have another cup of coffee, or possibly two.
In that moment, I ask myself “is there something more to life?” I find myself wishing I was out in the sunshine, in one of my favorite places, the mountains, surrounded by Gods beauty. Scriptures I have heard referenced in countless sermons, such as “give thanks in everything,” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) seem like long, distant memories, much like summer does when it is in the middle of winter.
I then go on a zoom call with my colleagues. One colleague is angry with his computer, his nemesis. My second colleague is frustrated with the digital platform which is hosting our career fair. My third colleague is quiet. She has been placed on a temporary layoff notice and is struggling with her situation.
As the significance of my colleagues’ struggles and frustrations soaks in, I wake up. I can continue through my day half asleep, focused on what I want, and maybe no one will know the difference but God. Or, rather than wishing I was somewhere else, I can choose to be fully present, and honor God by doing my work whole heartedly as if it was for Him (Colossians 3:23).
I am reminded of a study conducted by researcher Amy Wrzesniewski at a hospital. She identified a group of custodians who went above and beyond their job duties. One custodian, who worked in a unit with individuals in a coma, would periodically rearrange the artwork on the walls, in the hope that having something different to look at might stimulate their brains. Another custodian would meet and guide visitors from the hospital entrance to the rooms of the patients they had come to see. Unlike other custodial staff, these individuals saw themselves as an integral part of the healthcare team that contributed to the health and wellbeing of the patients.
What can we learn from these hospital employees? They saw beyond the confines of their job duties, which many might consider menial, and connected what they did to something bigger—they had a purpose which infused all they did.
How can we apply this to our work, or our studies, or when we are wishing that we are somewhere else? To begin with, just like I needed to, we can remember that it’s not about us. God has a bigger purpose than just making us happy; we are called to live in such a way that demonstrates His goodness (Matthew 5:16). It can be freeing to remember this, as it takes the attention off ourselves, and our problems, thereby making room for God to direct us through the gentle promptings of the Holy Spirit.
Secondly, it can be helpful to connect what we are doing with how it can benefit others. To help us do this, author Emily Esfahani suggests we take a mundane task and ask ourselves “Why am I doing this?” three times. As we do this, we will eventually find the task is connected with an outcome that benefits others. As Bryan Dik and Ryan Duffy note (authors of Make Your Job a Calling), almost every job, whatever it is, makes a difference in the lives of others if you think deeply enough about it.
As an example, I review hundreds of student resumes. Applying Emily Esfahani’s suggestion, my answer to the question progresses from “so students can have a good resume” to “so students can find a job that uses their education that they have worked hard to obtain.” My final answer is much more meaningful and motivating to me as I can more clearly see the impact of my actions on others. It helps me to shift from an attitude of I “should” work with all my heart to I “want” to work with all my heart (Colossians 3:23).
Lastly, we can take small, intentional actions to make life better for someone else just like the custodians did at the hospital. Not only is this biblical (think good Samaritan— Luke 10:30-37), doing this has been shown to increase our satisfaction with our work. It can be as simple as listening to colleagues when they are struggling, or smiling at someone you are serving coffee to (despite what you feel like!).
While I have found that actions like these can bring about more positive emotions in me and others, more importantly, sharing some goodness with others reminds me of how good God has been to me, and it honors God.
In my own work, remembering why I do what I do has not only increased my job satisfaction, it has strengthened my relationships with my coworkers, and helped people to see Christians in a more positive light, in environment that can be quite hostile to Christianity.
The next time you find yourself asking yourself “why am I doing this?” join me in remembering the custodians who saw their job, viewed as quite menial by many, as an opportunity to make a difference. And then ask God “what can I think and do differently to honor You?” and watch for the opportunities God provides.