This week I prayed as I went grocery shopping. I do this every time I go out shopping. I have a desire to make sure that I do not exclude God from the mundane aspects of life. Yet I struggle to grasp an appropriate theology of work and of how the boring aspects of life have meaning. But today as I went out I had a thought that makes some sense to me. I hope it also makes sense to you.
Life is not made significant by the leisure hours we have but by all of the hours we have. I know that most people work for money and many live for the weekends when they don’t have to go to work. I don’t really like grocery shopping and prefer to do something more interesting. But grocery shopping and employment are not unimportant parts of life. The meaning of life does not reside only in the interesting bits or the fun bits of life. The mundane and boring bits are important and meaningful. Why is this so?
Human beings were created to be like God. What does that mean in this context? In the beginning Adam was given charge of the Garden of Eden and told to serve it (work it) and to guard it (Gen 2:15). The life of Adam was intended to be devoted to service, not to leisure and avoidance of work. At the same time, God instituted the Sabbath so that people would not work all the time, but would rather take time to rest and be refreshed and to enjoy the holiness of the day and their lives lived in the presence God (Gen 2:2-3).
So life is meant to be about service, service of the world and of others. When I go grocery shopping I am serving my family. Since the household is my responsibility, I am the one who attends to the mundane things like shopping, cooking and cleaning. These are often boring but never meaningless. The service of others makes work meaningful. Whatever the job, be it paid employment or unpaid tasks, they are made meaningful by service. The jobs that are ultimately non-meaningful are those whose sole purpose is to extract money or to maintain power over others. Things like drug dealing and people trafficking are not meaningful since they do not serve others but rather enslave people. They provide certain people with a lot of money and often power but do not give to others. On the other hand, even lowly and poorly paid jobs can be of service to others. It is in serving someone else or serving the lesser creation that humans can be said to be pursuing meaningful lives.
But work itself cannot be the meaning of life. Work is not able to complete us. We must surrender our work and our leisure time to God, who is the giver of all good things including meaningful work. The Sabbath is one way of doing this. When we give up our work and surrender ourselves and our quest for meaning and purpose and live before God, then our lives can become complete and purposeful. Our service to God is not just activity but also inactivity. It is not frantic but peaceful. The Sabbath allows us time to rest, to recover, to be renewed and to worship God in a different way from the day to day worship that is our work offered to him.