When Your Work Is Hard

Sometimes work is just hard. More than that, sometimes it’s painful! Stressful! I’ve lived through seasons of job stress that caused me to lose sleep, have chest pains, and want to run away. No joke. I had to seriously change the way I thought about work and how I did my work to survive. I don’t think I’m alone. So many people I speak with are overwhelmed by the responsibilities and difficulties of their work (in or outside the home). Work stress wreaks havoc on health and relationships and faith, not to mention sucking the love, joy, and peace out of our lives. What do we do when work is hard?? Is there a better way?

Fruit and Thorns

According to the gospel—the Bible-long story of who God is, what he’s done, and what he’s doing today—work was not a product of sin. Doing work worth doing was part of the original blueprint of humanity. “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” (Ge 2:15) Men and women, made in God’s image, were created to work together, bringing order out of chaos and life and beauty out of the raw materials of God’s good world. But the blueprint became distorted by the power of sin and death. So, to this day, our work is fruitful, but it will also produce thorns. This means our work will be hard, and we won’t be as productive or as useful as we were created to be. This is why work is hard, painful, and stressful.

What does this look like? Teachers and administrators help kids learn and grow (fruit). But some kids struggle, and some teachers/schools struggle (thorns). Doctors, nurses, and first responders save and extend lives (fruit). But some patients won’t recover, and at times, mistakes do more harm than good (thorns). Engineers and builders create structures for people to live, work, learn, and play (fruit). But sometimes those projects fall apart, and sometimes the structures themselves fall apart (thorns). Police officers enforce just laws and keep the peace (fruit). But sometimes the justice system isn’t just, and it only escalates tension/violence (thorns). And baristas make delicious coffee and provide excellent customer service (fruit). But sometimes they mess up an order or get too busy to care for people well (thorns). This is the world of work that we find ourselves in today. Fruit and thorns.

So, what do we do when work is hard?

The myth of the job soulmate

The first thing to do is shift your expectations/perspective on your work. Adopting a gospel-centered view of reality helps you see the limitations of your work in this broken world. Things just won’t go 100% according to plan. And sometimes, your work will be very painful, difficult, or stressful. This is especially important to know if you’re just entering the workforce or starting your career. You can’t think of a career-path as finding your perfect job soulmate. That job doesn’t exist! There are probably numerous jobs that would be helpful for our society that you could do well if you worked at it. But none of which will perfectly satisfy you. Only God can do that! The pain you feel at times, is perfectly normal. Of course, that doesn’t make it less painful. But it does make it less shocking when it comes. You don’t have to say, “God! Why me?!? How could this happen?” but rather, “God! Help me, please! This hurts!” Expect thorns, but remember your Father in heaven wants you to share your anxiety and worry with him because he cares for you (1Pe 5:7).

Redeeming Your Work

The second thing you can do is to see the pain of addressing the thorns of your work as joining the work that God is doing in the world. Christians have a unique perspective on the brokenness of our world. We can look at thorns differently because of the gospel. Thorns will not have the final word. According to the gospel, Jesus came into the world to “seek and to save the lost” (Lk 19:10). Jesus came to redeem and heal the broken. Jesus came to bring real fruit into a world of thorns—work that would last forever. Jesus took on the most difficult job as he suffered and died on the cross for the sins of the world. He wore a crown of thorns. But that wasn’t the end! His resurrection from the dead broke the power of sin and death. And today, Jesus enables us by his Spirit to bring the same power of God to bear on the thorns of our work. Addressing and fixing the thorns of our work is part of what it means to do justice, to set the wrongs to right. This is the redeeming work that God is doing today. And that is certainly work that is worth doing. Finally, Christians believe that one day, God will put an end to the thorns of this world once and for all. God will finish his work of new creation by establishing a new heaven and earth for his people. A new heavenly city with new work to be done; where we can finally and forever bring order out of chaos and life and beauty out of the raw materials of God’s good world; where we can be as fruitful and useful as we were created to be! Can you imagine that? Can’t wait.

Our Father, please bless the work of our hands. Protect us from the idols of our work. Guide us in all knowledge and skill to do work that is worth doing. And may our work bring you glory, honor, and praise. Amen.