Mikestrathdee’s Blog


Working towards meaning – Jan 2009 Canadian Mennonite
January 8, 2009, 3:31 am
Filed under: Financial Management, Investing, retirement, Work

God, Money and Me

Working our way towards meaning

“What’s your theology of work?” the seminar leader asked his audience. And how, he wanted to know, does that view of work get expressed in dinnertime conversations at home? If families don’t teach a proper theology of work, their children could grow up viewing work as drudgery, something to be avoided, he said.

John Beckett, in the book Mastering Monday: A Guide to Integrating Faith and Work, points out that Adam and Eve’s early work was a source of pleasure, “a reflection of the Father’s own creativity and diligence.” Far too often, he writes, we take a completely different view of work, which is why 9 a.m. Monday morning is the peak period for heart attacks.

Part of whether we can say, “Thank God it’s Monday” with the same enthusiasm we embrace the weekend, may depend on whether we have a Genesis 2 or a Genesis 3 view of our labour. Do we view it as a creative and fulfilling act or as cursed drudgery that is at best a means to an end?

Often conversations about work move to plans for a time when current efforts give way to other pursuits. When people express concern to me about how the recent stock market drop has ravaged their retirement savings, I joke that my RRSP puts me on the “Freedom 85” plan.

There is no denying the difficulties that recent events have caused for millions of people who are already retired or contemplating retirement. One recent report suggested that many folks will have to postpone retirement by six or seven years.

[I]t is difficult to find support in the Bible for our modern notion of retirement.

At the same time, I wonder if our expectations of being entitled to get out of the work force to a life of leisure as early as possible are also a problem. In a previous career writing for a daily newspaper, I was saddened to learn of former co-workers who died soon after leaving their jobs. Deadline stress, poor lifestyle choices and working night shifts may have been contributing factors. I’ve also read of people in a variety of other industries dropping dead shortly after getting their gold watch. In some cases, they had so much of their identity tied up in doing, that they lacked purpose beyond the workplace.

More fortunate are those who find themselves so bored after a few months of leisure that they seek out a new, often slower-paced, career.

In his best-selling book, The Number: A Completely Different Way To Think About The Rest of Your Life, Lee Eisenberg cites a study about attitudes towards work. “Nearly 70 percent of pre-retirees said they plan to work at least part-time in their ‘retirement’ years, or plan never to retire at all.” For some, the decision is based on financial necessity. Yet more than two-thirds of respondents to a national survey cited work as being the way a person “stays active, remains useful and has fun.”

And it is difficult to find support in the Bible for our modern notion of retirement. God put Adam in charge of naming things in the Garden of Eden so he would have purpose and meaning in his life. How does that understanding of work mesh with your plans for what could be the last quarter of your life?

Eisenberg talks about “downshifting” being a healthier alternative to giving up employment altogether. For him, “revolving retirement” involves short-term jobs, new fields of endeavour and ongoing efforts to bring money and meaning into alignment. That sounds good to me.

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