The other day a friend told me about a book he was reading on the key to happiness in one’s work. He had been impressed by the book. “Wow,” I said, “the single key?” “Yep, that’s the thesis—that there’s a single key to anyone’s happiness.” “Soooo, what’s the key?” “The key is to be present at all times when we’re working.”
My friend said that, at first, it all sounded too simple. But the more he read, and the more he reflected on his own life, the more he tended to agree with the author. “All that thinking I tend to do about ‘what work I might do in the future’ or ‘what I might be doing now if only I’d made better past decisions’. All that thinking really is what distracts me from the contentment and thankfulness I otherwise experience at times when I consider myself to be really happy doing what I’m doing.”
Then my friend told me the real reason he had mentioned all this. He had found one flaw in the theory and didn’t know what to do with it. He said, “But as Christians, I think we’d have to say that God is the one exception. We’re supposed to think about God as we work. And God is an extraneous thought to my specific work. So should we as Christians say that we should strive to be ‘present’ in our work except for thinking about God?”
I thought this was an interesting question, though I suggested to my friend that we probably should frame the issue differently. There’s surely an important truth that, when working, we should focus on the work and not let external thoughts take away our focus or our joy in the work itself. But the idea of ‘practicing the presence of God’ while we work isn’t really something that should take us away from the specific work we’re doing. Rather, it simply gives a wider context to this work. We can maintain a focus on our work while seeing it as an act of service to the Lord, as an act of faithfulness to our calling, as an opportunity to join in Christ’s ministry as his co-worker.
For the Christian, a wider context for our work also involves seeing how our work builds on the work of those who have come before us. And it involves affirming that the fruits of our work may sometimes be of primary value to those who come after us. In our work, we sometimes reap where we have not sown; and equally we sometimes are called to sow where we may not ourselves reap. A healthy appreciation for the Communion of Saints allows us happily to embrace these facts.
So while at work we might frame our thoughts about God in terms of a wider context, or perhaps deeper levels, of our work. Far from an external distraction that keeps us from ‘being present’ in our work, the Christian wider context allows us to see and appreciate more clearly exactly what our work consists in. Paradoxically, practicing the presence of God in our work allows us actually to be more present in our work.