Before you fuss and whine about the long hours you work, let me add a little perspective.
One hundred years ago, workers logged in 100 hours a week. No piped-in music. No mandatory 20-minute breaks. No stopping to check Facebook or text your cousin Murray. Just 100 hours of back-breaking work.
Henry Ford changed all that. Hours had already begun to gradually drop back, but on May 1, 1926, Ford instituted a 40-hour work week. (He also doubled what auto workers were paid.) Productively actually went up, other companies began to follow suit, and the rest is history.
The idea that a full-time job means a 40-hour work week is so engrained that it’s hard to imagine how much this decision impacted modern culture. In 1930, the economist John Keynes predicted the trend would continue, and by the year 2000, the 15-hour work week would be commonplace.
Just the opposite has happened. The 40-hour work week is still the standard, but surveys show we are working anywhere from 44 to 50 hours a week. (The stats vary based on which survey you look at.) [Source]
And so we fuss and whine because we’re working longer. But many of us aren’t really fussing and whining; we’re bragging. Sure, it’s wrapped up in a tone of please-feel-sorry-for-me, but underneath it is a hint of pride.
- It’s obvious by the long hours I work that I’m important.
- I work long hours because they need me. I’m indispensable.
- Long hours equals productiveness, and productiveness equals value.
Think I’m reading too much into this? Actually, it’s worse.
Derek Thompson wrote an insightful piece in The Atlantic on what he calls workism and the gospel of work. He describes people who have made their career their passion. You not only work to produce something; you work to produce an identity.
Workism is “a kind of religion, promising identity, transcendence, and community.” —Derek Thompson
Thompson lays this religion at the feet of rich, college-educated men, but I think it describes more people than that. Whether we realize it or not, we get a lot of our identity from the company we work for or the work we do.
But what happens to that identity when retirement comes calling? Or HR knocks on your door and says your services are no longer needed? What happens when health issues sideline you? Who are you then?
Work is important, but your work does not define you.
I love what I do. I am privileged to carry out a unique task within the evangelical church. For 25 years, I have not taken for granted the special role I’ve been given. I daily thank God for what I do. But I also recognize that other people—lots of other people—could carry on this role just as well. And one day, I will retire, turn in my badge, and within days someone else will be developing Bible studies and leading this gifted team.
I am determined that my identity will not be lost because I refuse to let my job define me. I am who I am because of Christ and Christ alone. And that identity won’t change. Not now. Not at retirement. Not in eternity.
“Whatever you do, do it from the heart, as something done for the Lord and not for people, knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord. You serve the Lord Christ” (Col. 3:23-24).
Our identity is not found in what we do, but in whom we serve. Let’s do our work under the lordship of Christ. And let’s get our identity from Him and Him alone.
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