Originally published Wednesday, 20 June 2012.
After I finished my psychiatry residency, I was working at Mount Sinai Medical center in NYC. I was friends with another doctor who was a few years ahead of me. She was pregnant with baby number two. One day, a group of us were schmoozing over lunch. We asked her how she was able to juggle her kids and her work. Her parents were both successful, and she began to discuss how she and they had handled careers and kids. She suddenly stopped mid-sentence and said, “ Do you know what I love the most about being pregnant?” (This was before I had children, so I wanted to hear all about the warm, fuzzy experiences of pregnancy. Ha!)
Instead, she said, “I love being pregnant because it’s the only time where I feel productive all the time. Even when I’m sleeping, I’m doing something!”
Her words lingered in my mind for a long time.
I understood where she was coming from. For many of us, being productive and doingbecomes a signifier for who we are.
That is classic in our culture.
We ask each other our names, pause long enough to be polite, then follow closely with, “So…what do you do?”
Work is the way many of us define ourselves. This can happen whether we work from home, inside the home, outside the home, or somewhere in between!
We value purpose, activity, and plans. We tend to think of ourselves by what we do. (Or by how well we do it.)
However, another side can emerge.
Being accomplished and productive can go even farther: it can become an attempt at redemption.
That is, through our work , we try to build our worth, security, and meaning. Tim Keller calls it the work beneath the work.
Through our work, we subconsciously work to build our own salvation.
I do, therefore I am.
But now, we have a problem.
Our need for significance or security cannot be filled by doing.
As soon as we’ve accomplished our tasks or goals, our tanks are back to empty.
The project is over, the kids have grown up, or retirement has come and gone. We are left with a feeling of, “Now what?”
That’s because our need for significance stems from a deep-down heart’s desire for eternal meaning. And that only comes from God!
We cannot substitute finite things (or people, or experiences) for the infinite meaning that can only be bestowed by God.
How, then, can we unshackle ourselves from idolizing work?
(Not a complete list, but a start:)
- We can acknowledge that every gift and talent we have comes from God in the first place. If we boast, we are to boast in Him.
- We can remember that “It is finished.” The most important things we are looking for in this life are already achieved for us by Christ. A kingdom that cannot be shaken!
- We can think of our work, rather than being a way to earn ourselves points, as an expression of grace and gratitude.
Whatever our hands find to do – whatever hat we’re wearing – we can either be weighed down by trying to prove our worth.
Or, in the call and response of grace, we can do it to the glory of God!
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28
Question: Do you ever experience the burden of trying to “prove” your worth by your accomplishments?
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The best way we learn is from each other. You have a unique wisdom and insight that can truly bless others. So jump in and add your voice!
Dr. Ann is a Christian M.D., wife to a wonderful husband, and mom to a terrific gang of three. At The Marriage Checklist Ann blogs about life, work, and faith! She is syndicated on Crosswalk.com, and has been featured onBlogHer.com, MichaelHyatt.com, Fox news, and Good Morning America.
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Copyright Dr. Ann 2012
(photo credit: freedigitalphotos.net/ambro)