When asked the classic small talk question ‘so what do you do?’, I often desperately want to answer: ‘I’m Anya. I do normal things. I sleep, I eat, I laugh, I write, I paint, I chat. Get to know me and you’ll see what I do.’
This wouldn’t really satisfy though, and I usually end up coming up with a long-winded way of saying that I do absolutely nothing for a living, which is often when that person becomes disinterested in the conversation.
This used to bother me. I am someone who dreams big; the kind of person who believes it is possible to save the world and that I can have a part to play in doing so. Coming out of uni, I believed God could and would do massive things through me. I wanted to be the kind of Christian that believed God could ‘move mountains’.
And so, nearing the end of my theology degree I looked to the future with naive expectation, wondering which job God would ‘call’ me to, which interview would land in my lap.
I’ll paint you a quick picture of what has happened since. In March of that year I became ill with ME and was bedridden for a year. I was then miraculously healed of this illness, and began to think that surely ‘now’ was the time for God to call me into something big. When I tried to step out and explore options though, I was crippled by an anxiety that hadn’t been there before. Being bedridden had had an effect on my emotional health, and I was having panic attacks and fears about going out. After a while, I started a three-day-a week unpaid internship but a lot of the time I couldn’t manage three days and worked from home some days because of anxiety.
This sounds like a sad story, and yes, these last few years have the hardest of my life. But as I sit here looking back I actually feel deep joy and contentment, knowing that if I hadn’t fallen ill I wouldn’t have learned the things I have. My view of work is being redefined and it is freeing me.
I no longer see work as that part of the day when you go off and do your paid job, although that is a form of work.
Work is, I think, anytime that we give from ourselves for others, whether we are talking, cooking, doing the dishes, cheering someone up, volunteering or doing our paid jobs. I’m not all that sure that work looks all that different to just ‘being’.
I’ve found it helpful to look at God’s creation for a redefinition of ‘work’. There are fish at the bottom of the sea and planets out in space that will never be seen; they are just there, they seem to exist with no other purpose than to ‘be’. Every insect and animal, from the most insignificant to the greatest just ‘does its own job’ without getting caught up in existential crises and wondering why it is not doing as much as the next animal. God’s world is about rhythm, consistency and chugging away at your own job, and great eco-systems are held together and function as one through this.
I look at the working world, on the other hand, and at some areas of the Church, and I see a ‘harder, better, faster, stronger’ mentality that is totally different to that of the natural world. It’s about moving from one thing to the next, using all of our resources, about speed and results. There is little sense of ‘enough’, little sense of satisfaction in our work because we are constantly striving to reach our limits. Western culture is becoming more and more work-centric. We have even begun to use business words to talk about the Church: ‘networking’, ‘strategy’, ‘vision’, ‘cell groups’. It seems unnatural to me.
It is this mindset that leads people to question those that are not in paid jobs. I’m pregnant at the moment and I get this phrase a lot: ‘So are you just going to look after your baby next year?’ I have also had people praying for me to be at full health soon so that I can do more in church.
Honestly, I think God uses me more in my stillness and ‘unproductivity’, and in my weakness, than if I was working every hour of the day. We take ourselves far too seriously. I mean, God spoke through a donkey in the Old Testament, I’m sure He can use me even with anxiety and without a paid job!
So yes, I’m ‘just’ going to look after my baby next year, and yes I’m going to be financially supported by my husband, because that’s what we think God is calling us to. And no, I don’t think it’s true that ‘those who are unable to work in a paid job contribute less to society’.
Everyone’s story is different, and contributing to society can take many different forms.
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