Encouragement From The Word

Ora et Labora – Pray and Work!

One of the things I notice – through conversation, but especially through social media like Facebook – is that many, many working people don’t really like their work.  For some, that may not be true, but the impression I get is that people would rather do anything than the job they have at that given moment.  And it’s sad.
It seems that many people live for the weekend – or whatever days off they get.  And it seems, to me, a sad thing.  After all, we spend many of our waking hours at work, so oughtn’t we try to make the best of it, at least?  Or, preferably, shouldn’t we do work that we can enjoy?
Ora et labora is a common motto among monastics.  It means, “Pray and work”.  Since many people have the impression that monks and nuns do nothing but pray, they quickly conclude, “That’s easy for them to say.”  However, in reality, every monastic has a job, whether within or without the monastery.  Work is highly valued among monastics.  It is almost as highly valued as prayer; indeed, it is (as the motto attests) placed right alongside prayer as part of the vocation of every member of the community.
There’s a great statement that comes from the Trappistine Nuns at Santa Rita Abbey in Arizona.  It says, “It is at our work, more than anywhere else, that our human dignity is honoured, our generosity called forth, our selfless love for one another evoked.  Work is the unfolding of our prayer.  Through our work we are united with the poor of this world and with its fruits we contribute to their needs.”
Isn’t that a great statement?  The idea is not that work is a ‘necessary evil’ that is required of us in order to pay the bills and keep up with the Joneses.  Work is something God gives us to do as a means of bringing him glory, and using the gifts God has given us.
It seems, though, that a lot of people don’t look at work that way.  Instead, they see work as something they must do in order to faciilitate their desire to do what they want to do.
Work, however, is not evil.  Some, when they read the account of creation and the fall of humanity, assume that because Adam was ‘sentenced’, if you will, to work strenuously at tilling hard soil, his role in pre-fall paradise must have been to sit around and admire the animals and the rest of God’s creation.  But Scripture tells us that God commanded Adam, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2.15, NIV).
Work is not something from which to escape, but something to embrace as a gift, and a calling from God.  However, it is not to be embraced too hard!  Turning our work into an all-consuming passion makes it an idol.  We call it workaholism, but God calls it idolatry. 
No, balance is the key – as in so much of life.  Embrace your work.  Do it well, and to honour God.  Don’t make it all you live for.  Likewise, don’t eschew it as something merely to be tolerated.  Each of us has a divinely-ordained task to accomplish.  Do it with joy.  And do it alongside your life of prayer.