Men at Work
A Labor Day Reflection
By Devin Rose
I’ve been thinking about work a lot lately. Probably most guys have, with the bad economy and rising prices of just about everything. In my life, work has been a paradox, at one and the same time a source of pride and yet also a cross to be borne. What is it about work and our human state that causes such a conflict?
God called man to “subdue the earth” (Gen. 1:28). In his encyclical Laborem Exercens, Pope John Paul II explained how this passage alludes to the nobility of work in the life of man: “Man is the image of God partly through the mandate received from his Creator to subdue, to dominate, the earth. In carrying out this mandate, man, every human being, reflects the very action of the Creator of the universe” ( 4).
In this statement, we see that work is a fundamental dimension of man’s existence. Indeed, one primary purpose of our work is to employ our minds and bodies to shape the materials of God’s creation into useful and helpful objects. And in this respect work can be immensely fulfilling, especially evident when we see the fruit of our labor being used to make life better for others. Whether it’s paving a new road, discovering a cure for a disease, or fixing a leaky faucet, our work is valuable as a service to our community and world.
In addition to this, John Paul wrote, work “is also good as being something worthy, that is to say, something that corresponds to man's dignity, that expresses this dignity and increases it” (9). Work is an integral part of man achieving fulfillment as a human being.
And yet, most of us at one time or another have faced trials relating to work, whether difficulties with our coworkers, challenges of the job itself, or the cross of unemployment. In light of our Christian faith, this is not surprising. After the Fall, God told man that “in the sweat of your face you shall eat bread” (Gen. 3:19). Work can be drudgery. Many jobs grow boring quickly, and even the most interesting ones sometimes involve tedium.
As a software engineer, I sit in front of the computer all day and try to figure out why the machine isn’t doing what I told it to do. Of course, usually the problem is that it’s doing exactly what I told it to do, but not what I want it to do. This is a maddening reality of my job, and one reason why most people don’t want to be software developers. But how can I complain, when other guys are out in the blazing summer heat putting tar out on the road? Or even worse, out of a job completely?
As bad as work can be, not having a job can be infinitely worse. As men, we identify ourselves with what we do. “I’m a plumber. I’m a general contractor. I’m an engineer.” When we are unemployed, we can’t help but feel embarrassed, as if something important is missing. Not to mention the fear that comes that we will fail to provide for our families.
I used to ignore the economy. It was rolling along well enough for me to have a job that paid well, so why worry about it? But now that I have children, I think about whether they will have the same opportunities for a good job that I did. The fact is that the economy and the financial decisions we have made as a country directly impact us, and the many Americans who are unemployed today are painfully aware of it. It is an injustice that men who are willing and able to work are unable to find employment.
Finding a job in this economy can be incredibly difficult. Companies know that many are looking for jobs and are being highly selective in whom they choose. Also, businesses are wary of hiring right now due to fears of a double-dip recession. This combination is a double-whammy for those searching for a job.
Of course, you will want to make full use of your network of business contacts and friends, whether via e-mails and phone calls or social media sites. Get creative; be an entrepreneur. The beauty of technology today is that, unlike in past times, you can start small and cheaply with your endeavor.
If you are unemployed, ask God for assistance through St. Joseph’s intercession. If you have a job, give thanks to God for it, and pray for those who are out of work. And when you work, remember what St. Paul wrote: “whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Col. 3:23–24). May this Labor Day be a time of renewed hope and gratitude for the work God has given us.
Devin Rose is a software engineer who blogs at St. Joseph’s Vanguard. He and his wife, Katie, live with their four children in the Southwest.