My job is penitential enough in its own right — full of drudgery, monotony and not a little grief from a moody supervisor — without piling on penitential practices. Do you have any suggestions on how I might integrate my work with my Lenten observances?
Contrary to a misconception popular among many Christians, work is not the product of man’s sin. It’s a pre-fall activity, like naming the animals. Adam’s other job — before he was laid off for the apple incident — was gardening: He was assigned to till and keep the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15).
Work was not intended as a punishment, but rather to meet the needs of our life and enable us to serve. Yet, a result of sin, it can also be a strain. “By the sweat of your face, you shall eat bread” (Genesis 3:19).
To make substantive changes during Lent, we can’t neglect the workplace no matter how penitential it already is for us. After all, we spend a lot of time there and it provides a ton of opportunities to offer things up and grow in virtue. Here are some suggestions:
— When you ask someone how their weekend went, stop, take a breath and listen to their response with respectful interest.
— When the copy machine jams, instead of slinking away to use a different copier, open the compartments and figure out how to undo that pesky paper jam. When you solve the problem, humbly exit the area without seeking out someone to applaud you.
— Answer the phone before it goes to voicemail. Sure this is risky — it might, indeed, be someone who takes 10 minutes to communicate what they could have gotten across in two — but look at it this way: Eventually you would have to return the call anyway. It will be one less callback on your “to do” list.
— Re-read your company’s mission statement and think about ways it can help you set your daily priorities. Use it to take a “litmus test” of what the company expects you to do and what you actually tend to do.
— Initiate a friendly chat with the co-worker you like least. Tell him what you appreciate about his contributions to the organization and ask if there’s anything you can do to make his job easier or more enjoyable.
— Make it a point to arrive five minutes early for every scheduled meeting — fully prepared for the agenda. In meetings, focus on the proceedings and participate in the discussion, especially during the parts in which you’re tempted to doodle or daydream.
Intentions are everything here. Lent isn’t the time to mope around, and it’s certainly not the time to do our own thing. We want to show our appreciation to Christ by strengthening our will by doing His will — and by creating good will around us. There’s no place like a drudgery-filled workplace to work on becoming radically charitable — to attend not only to our work, but to those with whom we work.
Charity is the best measure by which to evaluate our spiritual progress. Thank God for the opportunities your job affords you for that project!
Art Bennett is director of
Alpha Omega Clinic and
Consultation Services (aoccs.org) in Vienna, Virginia
and Bethesda, Maryland.