Contentment on the Job

Some “everyday” things in life are sacred.  Time spent breaking bread with other people is one of those, since relationships in general are sacred. At the deepest level we humans are spirit and as such have unconditional respect for other spirit. Having meals together is a shared recognition of the temporal nature of our bodies and their requirement for sustenance. Sharing that need universally guarantees mutual, sacred respect.

Keeping promises is another sacred discipline because agreements are personal contracts. In modern times, we tend to treat many promises more casually, minimize our failure to honor them with excuses. But the person who experiences failure a promise made to them will remember that at the heart level, even if the “broken promise” was a small one. He or she may gracefully forgive the infraction, but its memory is involuntarily attached to the relationship. That’s probably why Jesus said, “Let your yes be yes and your no be no…”

Work is intrinsically sacred. Work was an important social concept even before money was offered as compensation. It has dignity. Ancient writings declare work as God-ordained before Adam and Eve appeared on the scene. People who have for a time depended on welfare money in place of work often claim that they would prefer earning a living to receiving welfare checks. There is dignity in using the mind and body to create and produce things of value. Today, many of us get so busy doing the work, we lose sight of how valuable it is just to have the work.

The word work can have a cultural connotation of drudgery; we might hear someone say, “Wow, cleaning up after those kids is such work.” It is not unusual to hear folks bemoan Monday morning, “Oh Monday; back to work again; I can’t wait until Friday gets here!” When work isn’t challenging and energizing, workers suffer from a poor match between the job task and a worker’s aptitude. We humans were not designed to constantly perform boring, repetitive functions. Our mind, spirit and body parts deserve more challenging work, requiring at least an occasional use of our intuition and creativity to be satisfying. The human psyche is wired for creativity and completion. When careers or hobbies are wholesome enough to also allow creative activity while working toward goals, we are likely to find the process enjoyable and fulfilling, bringing contentment.

A book from the 17th century, now entitled, “The Practice of the Presence of God” highlights the work attitude of a man called Brother Lawrence . The book documents that fulfilling contentment from, among other things, Lawrence’s decision to perceive his job in a diet kitchen in France as sacred work. He saw it as a job that deserved a wholehearted quality effort. He described it as performing the work with the same effort and quality as one would perform work for God himself. He worked “heartily” as the Apostle Paul had encouraged followers in Colossae, in modern day Turkey. Lawrence’s character and reputation for living with mature peacefulness attracted folks to seek him out asa mentor. They apparently wanted whatever it was that he seemed to have. If the rest of us folks, perhaps working with skills beyond those required of a kitchen assistant, would adopt an attitude of practicing God’s presence in our work details, we too might experience a highly desirable increase of satisfaction and contentment from our work.

Another benefit of such a not-so-radical attitude towards work is would be that we are less likely to regret events from the past or worry about what might happen in  the job’s future because we would know we’ve given it our best. When we trust work to be sacred, and routinely redirected troublesome energies toward improving the work at hand, political manipulations or intimidations that plague the work environment diminish. Office bullies, fearing quality, know better than to coerce its source or criticize it falsely. Quality is sacred. Teams know that when quality is practiced by generating creative new alternatives and keeping motives altruistic, they help to attain the group’s mission. This cultivates security even in the presence of  unhelpful tactics. What’s more, assigning higher value to the many details of work helps coworkers and managers see how to perform their own assignments better. They in turn might choose to model that process for even further improvement all-around.

This same methodology – honoring the work activity – brings imagination, creativity and mindfulness when responding to unwanted stress, busyness or disappointment in general. Results improve and the process itself, viewing work as sacred, yields new levels of satisfaction and fecundity.

When we keep sacred those parts of life that are ordained as sacred, even if they seem small, and even when  they are not valued by others in our culture today, we discover an effective way to reduce stress and sense enjoyable, lasting contentment. Good bye boredom, regret and worry; hello confidence, satisfaction and peacefulness – all thanks to the sacred nature of work.

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About hamiltonstation

I spent a few years as a small boat officer with the U.S. Navy in the Western Pacific, then worked 35 years as an automation engineer, followed by 8 years in a public high school as a special needs educator, 3 years as a kayak guide for a cruise ship on the Great Lakes, and currently in my 10th year as a ocean kayak guide for a large outdoor corporation in Maine. For 30 years, I have been volunteering in maximum security prisons, helping inmates with literacy, developing of the spiritual side of personality, and learning mature social skills - all to eventually assist with their future re-integration into society. My wife and I have 2 adult children, currently live near the New England coast and are avid sea kayakers.
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