“What do you do?” he asked, by and by.
“Well, I work”, answered I.
“What as?” he continued, with aplomb.
“I do my job …”
“Yes”, he said, “I see,
that this work is why you are here”.
“Yes, indeed”, with much in store,
waiting for a chance to tell him more,
Sharing with him about how much he is loved.
So, our identity is in our work. Rarely are we asked, “Why do you work?” and “What is your motivation?” Usually, it stops at “What do you do?” and that is enough to satisfy the curiosity of our host country, host organisation, local friends and complete strangers.
But isn’t our identity more than work? We are loved and completely accepted—isn’t that our identity? Hence, we often experience a tension in how we share our identity with those around us. What we do is less important than who we are. It’s easy to say that we work; indeed, it is expected. If not, then suspicions are raised—how can they really live here if they do not work? Or, if we say we are doing one thing but in fact are doing something else, we actually have a major problem with integrity. I define integrity as having just one story about who I am and I share the details of my story in a way my hearer will understand. But, what I say is what I do, because it usually is, in terms of my work.
Of course, work is not everything. Family, rest, sharing in communities … we all know the expression that no-one gets to their deathbed and says, “I wish I had spent more time at work”. The reverse is invariably the case. God rested, and so should we.
But identity is not the only function of work. One major function of work is relationship building. We have many opportunities to spend time with the people we work with. Indeed, I have found it easier and more natural than, for example, becoming friends with my local traffic policeman (as I did in my early language-learning days) and this is because we have more in common. Work relationships seem to last longer. And relationships are often key if we want to see transformation.
Transformation—yes, that is what we long for. Often the transformation, physically and spiritually, is through our work. When I see a community being empowered to take their own actions to address some of their limitations for health or education, then I can see transformation—and all this through work. When I see a social business being able to contribute significantly to a social cause through a business model, then I witness transformation.
What about when I don’t see transformation, though? Is my work less successful, or is it even wasted? How do I handle ‘bad days’ or even bad seasons? At various points in time I have thought about what makes success. Going back to the question of identity … if our identity is based on our success, we are setting ourselves up for a big problem.
Perhaps the end of the matter is to have a healthy attitude towards work. For most of us, that will be ordinary work. Ordinary people doing ordinary things. But we are enabled for our ordinary work to be achieving something quite out of the ordinary in kingdom terms. And, if anyone asks—yes, I am here to work; here to see transformation.
Robert has worked in community development in South East Asia for over 10 years.
Names have been changed.