Work as Purpose

Blog by Associate Mary Ellen George

Have you ever been unemployed?  Or, do you know someone who has experienced being unemployed?  Why is work or ministry so important to how we feel about ourselves? Beyond a paycheck, does work matter?

If you’ve ever experienced job loss, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, you know the accompanying feelings of doubt, despair, and loneliness that come from not working. Even when we are not occupationally employed, work of any kind matters to our sense of well-being, to our ability to interact and connect with others, and to contribute to our communities. Work gives us meaning and a purpose for our lives.

Having just celebrated Labor Day, I think it’s fitting to take a moment to reflect on the value of work. What does being able to work or not being able to work mean to you?  How does your work or ministry affect how you feel about yourself?  Do you take being able to work and to perform a job or task for granted?  What makes your work or ministry meaningful?  Is there some work you would never want to do?

What makes work meaningful to me is to see it in the context of ministry, that is, as a way of serving God and of using my gifts to help others. When I see my work as ministry, my work becomes more than a job or task to do.  By viewing work as having a spiritual or ministerial component, I find it easier to carry out whatever tasks I need to do and to see my work as having a deeper purpose and meaning. Thus, in my administrative role here with the vocations and formation teams, I see my work as a way of serving God, of using my gifts to help the Sisters in their ministry with women who are discerning religious life.

What I learned also from my years as a hospice caregiver is to appreciate that by simply being present to others and by listening to the women I visited, a reciprocal relationship of ministering to and being ministered to can happen.  Wanda, who was one of my hospice patients, for example, taught me to quilt and her gift has blessed me immensely.  So, when we adopt a service attitude and work from the heart, it  can change us and perhaps others. Through our work or our ministry, we can become the hands, the feet, the eyes, the ears that bring love, hope, peace, and healing to a broken world.

Work is an important part of who we are and gives us an opportunity to share our gifts, to be in community with others, and to contribute to some mission or to someone.  We are each called to be workers in the harvest of God’s kingdom.  Our work or ministry is also one of the tools God uses to transform us and to teach us life lessons.

As Martin Luther King Jr. noted, “No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.” Or, another way to think about our calling in life is to recognize what Frederick Buechner once said, and that is, “Your vocation in life is where your greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need.”

There are many ways that our work, our ministry, our calling can be beneficial to ourselves, to others, and to our communities.  Perhaps you can think of ordinary people whose simple or extraordinary work has contributed to the well-being of others.

Work can be physical or intellectual, creative or mechanical, domestic or industrial. All work matters and has the potential of making someone else’s life better, bearable, or more enjoyable. For example, an athlete or musician can entertain us in different but joy-filled ways or a scientist can discover a life-altering cure, or an artist can help us see beauty around us, an electrician can assure that a building is wired properly, a housekeeper can make a nursing home patient feel special just by tidying her personal space.

Even if we have physical or intellectual disabilities, our “work” or “calling” can make a difference in the lives of others. Do you know of someone with physical or intellectual limitations whose simple presence brings you joy—a Down’s Syndrome person, a blind or deaf person, or some other person who has learned to use their gifts for the betterment of others?

Whatever work we do, how we do this work is important also.  Do we do our work with a cheerful heart or with drudgery?  Are we hospitable and compassionate when working with others?  Are we competitive or cooperative?

As God’s work of creation, we are each endowed with gifts given to us for a purpose. Our work matters to God and it is through our work that we can serve God and others.

What is the work you enjoy doing?  Are you being called to put your gifts at the service of others as a religious sister?  Come and be a part of our work and our mission to preach the Gospel in every season.  Begin the journey of discerning your calling by contacting one of our Vocation Ministers.

Posted in God Calling?, News

3 responses to “Work as Purpose

  1. Dear Mary Ellen,
    How right you are about the importance of work. MLK’s words “no work is insignificant,” has much meaning and importance for all people. We all need a purpose in life, and work is one of the ways we achieve that. One reason why the minimum wage is truly important. Each of our jobs are integral to the functioning of an entire society.
    Thanks for the reminder,

  2. Your article confirms my beliefs that all of us have value and can serve our brothers and sisters in meaningful ways pleasing to God while satisfying our need to serve others and be useful and to matter.

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