Last month we posted a NYT article by Erin Callan, former CFO of Lehman Brothers, in which she confessed how her work had become a consuming priority—and ultimately her identity.
While Callan’s story was a wakeup call to many of us with the workaholic gene, I raise a cautionary flag. Such accounts of overwork can tempt us to view work as the enemy of spiritual life. To be sure, work can become an evil taskmaster and idol to which we sacrifice ourselves daily—often at the expense of our marriage, our family and our own personhood. “Work eats out the center of our lives, leaving us only the crust,” a retired executive bemoaned.
Why do we allow work to do this? Consider Callan’s answer: “I didn’t start out with the goal of devoting all of myself to my job. It crept in over time. Each year that went by, slight modifications became the new normal.” Though she never mentions God, Callan may be a better theologian than many who commented on her essay. She’s identified the real problem—and it’s not the work itself.
We all devote ourselves to something. And unless that something is God, it will “over time” enslave us—be it work, money, fame, family or pursuit of personal peace and happiness. Although each of these is a good gift from God, if we devote ourselves to any gift instead of the Giver of the gift, it will suck the life from our soul and leave an empty shell—as Callan discovered.
Yet when we devote ourselves to God, He fills us with life and the ability to enjoy His good gifts, rather than sucking us dry. He gives us the ability to do good work—and also the freedom to walk away our work when other responsibilities call. He calibrates our perception, allowing us to see our work as important to His creation and critical to our design and calling, but not the definer our identity.
Our work is enormously significant, but it must be secondary to our devotion to God. And in this devotion, we find freedom.
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. (Colossians 3:23-24)
How do you devote yourself to the Lord through your work?