What did you do today, dear?

I was involved in a sad conversation yesterday that went something like this:

The study, about 4.30 pm, January 14th 2011.
(phone rings)
Me: hello, Kea Vicarage (feeling the usual slight nerves on answering the vicarage phone - "you never know what you're gonna get").
Voice: hello, is that Mr Charles Peer?
Me: Yes, that's right. (thinks: not too bad so far).
Voice: hello, this is [ordinary bloke's name] from [totally meaningless company name].
Me: hello. (thinks: 1. Grrrr. 2. OK, try really hard not to go Victor Meldrew here).
Voice (flat, desperate, speaking very fast): Mr Peer, we are giving all ourclients the chance toinvest in the finewines market, and I'mgoingto send youacatalogue tonight. Isyour email address ******** ?
Me: errrr... yes? (thinks: 1. He's got my email? 2. Invest what?? 2. Ok, let's try not to make this guy's day any worse than it already is).
Voice: Mr Charlspier, is the finewines market something youveconsideredasahomeforyourmoney at all?
Me: Um. No. Why don't you just send me the catalogue and I'll think about it? (thinks: that should do it).
Voice (increasingly desperate): OK, Mr Charles, to dothat I just have toaskyouafewquestions.
Me: (thinks: nonononono)
Voice (not drawing breath): Whichoftheseinvestmentsareyoumostlikelytochoosecapitalbondssharesorfixedraatesavings?
Me: Actually, let's just give it a miss, shall we?
Voice (quietly): Oaaawwwwwhhhhhh....... (hangs up).

In that final sigh was packed the boredom, frustration, and deep soul-desperation of a man who spends his days phoning people up and annoying them and suffering the repeated rejections and abuse that surely follow.

It made me think. I've been doing what I do for quite a while now, long enough to realise that it's not always an easy life, and that full-time ministry isn't always as exciting and rewarding as it might look from the outside. But I am so lucky to be doing something that firstly, I think is what God has called me to do, secondly, is in many ways very worthwhile, and thirdly, gives me the chance, on balance, to do more things that I enjoy doing than things that I don't. So many get none of these from their work.

I admit I'm not sure what to think about work. The church often stands accused of not recognising that most people spend most of their waking lives at work. Many churches hardly ever talk about work at all, while others seem to observe a hierarchy whereby the likes of teachers, doctors, etc. are valued while people in banking, cleaning, or other mucky industries never get a look in. There has been a healthy backlash against this, in which Christians have been encouraged to think of their job as the place to which God has called them, and to treat their work as part of their day-to-day walk with God.

But still the awkward fact remains that some jobs are, by anybody's standards, more worthwhile than others. I challenge anyone reading this to come up with a good argument that demonstrates that a presenter on QVC TV is as important to society as a nurse. And is it really possible to speak of God's calling when you are stuck in a dead-end, useless job that strips you of all self-respect? Is the existence of cold-calling jobs proof that God really has cursed the labours of Adam's race? [Genesis 3:17-19]

To be serious, the idea that work is a blessing needs some more thought. Throughout history, and still now, millions have found that work is no more than the "sweat of your brow", producing "thorns and thistles", and very little reward. There are lots of people who find they can do jobs which are rewarding, creative, or worthwhile, and that, perhaps, is a sign of grace, that the world can be redeemed. But we shouldn't pretend that it is like that for everyone.


Ray Barnes said…
Having been 'steered' away from what I wanted to do (professional singer), as a young person and pointed (with some energy) in the direction of some, any type of office work - deemed to be more respectable and the means to support myself, I know at first hand how very frustrating such a life can be.
If we never find the energy to buck the trend and fight to do what we want with our lives, work becomes - and I believe for most people is - a way to survive and keep a roof over one's head.
The vast bulk of jobs are routine and boring and this leads to people living with discontent.
For me the best part of my life has been singing acting when not at my daily job and since early retirement finding endless joy in new interests and people I never had time for in my working life.
Anonymous said…
On the QVC question, the thing that strikes me is that whatever you do, worthy or ignoble, you still have neighbours - bosses, team-mates, menial gophers. They are all genuinely and totally loved by God, and it is our job to reflect that.

As far as I can see (and you can definitely disagree with me on this one) there is no command in the Bible telling us to find a job that benefits society, but there is a big command telling us to love our neighbour (and one about discipling people too).

What I'm saying is that it's not so much what we do as a job that is really the thing, as much as how (and why) we do it - 'whether we eat or drink or whatever we do ...'. Having said that, there are certain jobs/industries that certainly are wrong - properly immoral - and I would probably include telesales staff in that category :)
Alan Crawley said…
I remember in previous employment getting long silent messages on my voicemail. I asked someone about this and was told it was the only way that call centre staff could get a break.
I suspect that in some areas they are some of the few jobs going.

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