I’m certainly not the first person to write about work as spiritual practice, nor do I necessarily believe that I have anything especially profound to say about it that hasn’t been said before. Those disclaimers out-of-the-way, I still feel led to write about my own experience.
I’m a bit of an odd duck in that I am bi-vocational. One of my vocations, that of spiritual teacher and pastor, has never seemed like work to me. I frequently say that I am one of the very lucky people who never feel as if they are going to work because of how much I love what I do. Unfortunately, spiritual teachers are essentially self-employed, and the pay isn’t good. I have learned a lot in the last twelve years, a time when my primary income was almost completely dependent upon the generosity of others. I’ve learned it’s good to be a “kept bishop,” to have a spouse who earns a good living and affords me the luxury of living my dream. Still, we aren’t independently wealthy, and so I have often worked a part-time job to help make ends meet. For the last few years I have occasionally helped a friend with some things she needed done with her business. When that business closed last Spring, I joined the ranks of the unemployed. That’s not to say that I started collecting unemployment, because as an independent contractor I wasn’t eligible. It meant we lost my income. Normally, I do fairly well during Summer wedding season, but this year even weddings were fairly slow.
Today I started another independent contractor gig. While I am generally critical of our culture’s emphasis on productivity, I must confess that it felt good to be able to contribute to my family in a financial way once again. The prospects for an unemployed person over fifty years old with physical limitations are not good, and I am thankful that I can remain productive for now. I also recognize that my ability to continue doing so is time limited, which makes me acutely aware that I must now begin contemplating how to feel productive when the time comes that I am no longer able to work.
Like it or not, I have been trained to buy into the notion that a man’s value is in his productivity. I have been only partly successful in reprogramming myself. Mind you, I am not saying the same is not true for a woman, but the fact is that I’m not a woman so I can’t speak to a woman’s experience. I grew up in the day when most of us still had stay at home mothers. I had the great honor and privilege of being employed part-time while my children were growing up so I could take them to their many appointments. I called myself a house husband, and enjoyed being the one who cooked the meals and did the laundry – but kids grow up, thanks be to God! By the time I was ready to kick ass and take names, I discovered that my own ass had been kicked and my name taken!
Somewhere in your life – it may even be you – there is someone struggling with issues of productivity. We have unbelievable high rates of unemployment in this disaster of an economy. Baby boomers are at or near retirement age, which means that even if they aren’t retired they may well be encountering limitations. I encourage you to reach out to the people you know and encourage them. They may not be talking about their struggles, but they are most likely struggling. A kind word and a good ear can work miracles!