The Difficulty of Work
Coming out of the McIntire School of Commerce at the University of Virginia (go ‘Hoos!), I applied to be an investment banking analyst because people told me this was a desirable job. Everyone was transparent about the workload that would be required, but they also seemed to think that such a career move would open a lot of doors later on. By God’s grace I secured a role in the healthcare group of a prominent Wall Street firm, headed to New York City, and proceeded to learn what in the world I had gotten myself into.
You see, I had only a vague idea of what investment bankers actually did. The title investment banker is not particularly helpful, as it turns out that investment bankers don’t deal much with either investments or banking (at least not as most people think of them). I knew that I’d be involved in mergers and acquisitions and initial public offerings and other large-scale corporate transactions but, other than the fact that I’d be working an inordinate number of hours, I had little sense of what a week might look like.
In retrospect I am deeply grateful for the time I spent at my firm, and to the talented and insightful people with whom I worked. The workload and stress level were at times brutal, but I emerged with experience in finance and organizational behavior that has been priceless even in the pastorate. I would not be who I am today without this background.
Some of the things I have valued most about my experience in investment banking were incidental statements and memorable anecdotes that arose in the course of the daily grind. One such statement came from Elizabeth, the lone Ohio State grad in our group, who one day quipped, “It’s not supposed to be fun; it’s work. If it were supposed to be fun, we’d call it a hobby.” Those who have experienced the investment banking environment know how true this statement felt.
What Elizabeth said squares with the biblical picture of work, on one level. Genesis 3 is explicit about the toilsome nature of work subsequent to the entrance of sin into the world:
And to Adam [God] said,
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”
The toil of work is an important biblical concept God establishes here, very early in the Scriptures. God probably never meant for work to be easy, but now it’s genuinely tough, and even under the curse of God. Things don’t work as smoothly as they should. What would have been a pleasurable challenge is now irksome and stressful.
When work gets tough, there is a strange comfort that comes from having anticipated that work would get tough. We should expect that communication will break down. We should expect that employees will abdicate responsibility. We should expect that there will sometimes be parts missing from the box. For some reason this makes the toilsomeness of work a bit less toilsome.
This isn’t the last word on work, though, and we must go further because if we stay at this point we’ll be ignoring key biblical themes on work and might even tend toward cynicism in this area. Next week, as we continue this series on The God of Faith and Work, we’ll share more about the good news!
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