Work and worth for all
Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life
Recent newspaper articles have reported that the two-year downturn in the US economy has resulted in the highest jobless rate in 30 years. However, this burden is not carried equally, as blacks are bearing the brunt of it. The New York Times reported that for African-Americans, the jobless rate is nearly twice that of whites (July 12).
This problem reminded me of the lyrics of a song from 20 years ago, "Work for All," by the South African mixed-race pop-music group, Juluka. One verse and chorus, sung in both Zulu and English, laments: "Papa sits alone in the kitchen, Thirty years a mining man. He still has to fight for the right to work, Whether times are good or bad ... Sifun'umsebenzi - wo thina sifun'umsebenzi, We need work for all, Sifun'umsebenzi - work for all - we need to work to be."
I was always struck by the plaintive, "We need to work to be." How often we identify with our jobs, saying, "I am a businessman," or "I am a housewife," when we really are so much more than that. We have important relationships with our families and friends; we engage in meaningful volunteer activities, we may have an affiliation in the way we worship.
We need jobs to pay the rent, put food on the table, and make a better life for our children. It's vital to our sense of worth to be productive toward our family, our community, and our world.
But self-worth has to involve more than a simple equation of us with our job. When we can't find work, it doesn't mean we become nobodies, worthless and lost.
It's helpful to go back to the Bible, specifically to the first chapter of Genesis, where God saw His creation - which includes every one of us - "and, behold, it was very good" (Gen. 1:31). I love having this as the basis of my identity - one of God's very good creations. This has nothing to do with my job, my education, or my skin color, and everything to do with my status as the image and likeness of God.
Mary Baker Eddy, who founded this newspaper, commented on this spiritual creation in her major work, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," where she wrote, "In God's creation ideas became productive, obedient to Mind" (pg. 544). We have been productive from the beginning because we are the reflection, the expression, of the divine Mind. This spiritual concept protects my sense of my worthwhile functioning from the mundane human activity of what I do, or don't do, from 9 to 5.
About 14 years ago, I took a new job in southern Africa. My wife resigned from her 20-year teaching career, where she had been respected as an educator, a writer, and an organizer of conferences, to follow me. And she had nothing to do. Of course our family income decreased, but more sadly, so did her sense of worth. She felt unproductive. During this time, she turned to the Bible and prayed to know herself as part of God's perfect, spiritual creation.
As she prayed, she gained the conviction that her job wasn't her identity. She had worth as God's loved daughter. She saw that she was included in divine Mind and found herself obedient to follow her intuitions to new professional opportunities.
Within a few months, a new career opened up for her. It built on her existing skills, allowed her to develop new ones, and eventually broadened her usefulness to include populations not only in Africa but also in Latin America.
Those brothers and sisters who represent the splendid diversity of God's creation and are looking for work can take heart. The worth of each of us, our useful productivity, has already been established because God saw everything, "and ... it was very good." Nobody is worthless; nobody is left out of God's productivity. The right job will then come not as an accident but as the result of God's direction.
The Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul
in drought, and make fat
thy bones: and thou shalt be
like a watered garden,
and like a spring of water,
whose waters fail not.