Arts & Culture & At Work

Author Interview on the Sacred Meaning of Everyday Work

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At IFWE, we are always looking for new resources to help you flourish in all areas of life, from work to church to our home and beyond. 

I recently interviewed Robert H. Tribken, author of the new book The Sacred Meaning Of Everyday Work, about these topics. During our discussion, he shared about engaging our everyday work opportunities with a fresh sense of purpose, wisdom, strength, and courage. Yet Tribken went beyond just ideas — both our conversation and his new book are saturated with pragmatic spiritual practices to seamlessly integrate faith, work, and economics into our life. 

When in your extensive business career did you become interested in the connections between your faith and your work? Could you describe what the journey looked like for you?

Tribken: I became a Christian in my late forties. Shortly afterward, I started taking classes at Fuller Theological Seminary to learn more about Christianity. I enjoyed the classes and learning about what was, to me, a new subject. But I began to notice that many of our contemporary readings seemed to reflect a lack of knowledge about business and the related professions. A few theologians even seemed to adopt the negative opinions of some of our anti-business critics. 

At the same time, some of my friends in business did not seem to expect much help or encouragement from their church. They understood that churches teach us to treat people well and act with integrity, but beyond this, they were not sure what, if anything, religion had to do with their work.

I believed then, and I believe now, that business, markets, and entrepreneurship make an essential contribution to the flourishing of society and that our religious institutions should recognize and encourage this. I also believe that a person’s faith and spirituality can provide important support for their work life.

Finding ways to help bridge this gap became my focus. For the next few years, I interviewed and conversed with a large number of people about how they saw their work and their faith. I also developed a few experimental programs to address this issue and established the Center for Faith and Enterprise with the help of friends. My time was limited, however, because I was still running Bestfresh Foods, Inc. (We provided ready-to-eat fresh food to retailers in the western states). This changed when I sold the business in 2018, freeing up more time. 

Your book discusses several Christian spiritual practices to help people as they integrate their faith and work. Why do you think these are important and where should someone start?

Tribken: Spiritual practices such as prayer can help us turn our attention toward God and become more open to spiritual insights and intuitions. I believe they can also help us develop a deeper sense of mission and a larger perspective on our life and work, stay calm in a crisis, and develop the strengths it takes to lead during difficult times.

We each come to spiritual practices with different needs and dispositions. I think it is good to experiment with different practices until we find ones that seem most appropriate for us as individuals. For some, this might be reading scripture in a prayerful state of mind. For others, it might be reciting a psalm or pre-written prayer. For others, it might mean sitting in silence or adopting a traditional practice like Lectio Divina or the Examen. There are many other options, including short practices that can be integrated into the rhythms of our workday and help us stay connected. 

When we engage in spiritual practices, I think it is good to keep an open mind and not worry about doing it correctly or experiencing something profound. We should turn our attention towards God in whichever way seems most appropriate, and relax.

(Here are some quick examples from the book: 1) receptive prayer, pp. 109-110; 2) prayer mantra, pp. 118-119; 3) breath prayer, pp. 114-115; and 4) bracketing our tasks with prayer pp. 115-116.)

Your book includes a chapter on leadership. How does your view on faith and work inform your recommendations about leadership?

Tribken: I think leadership has a spiritual dimension with several important aspects.

First, I believe it is essential for leaders (and managers) to clearly understand their mission and how it contributes to the greater good and the well-being of other people. The leader’s faith can provide ways to think about this. 

Second, a leader’s faith and spirituality can help them stay grounded. Prayer, theological reflection, and spiritual community can help them act with wisdom, strength, purpose, and compassion. This spiritual grounding is also important when it comes to the temptations of leadership, especially that of narcissism. Character strengths like humility can help us resist narcissism, stay open to new information, and collaborate with others.

Third, an organization characterized by shalom would be one where people flourish at all levels. People would be productive, prosper along with the organization, have excellent collaborative relationships, and understand their contribution to the enterprise and the flourishing of society. I have called this the shalomic organization (The Sacred Meaning of Everyday Work, pp. 160-162), one that manifests the original biblical meaning of shalom. Such an organization would be known as a great place to work and have a better chance at profitability. A spiritually grounded leader can help people and the organization move in this direction.

How does economics fit into an overall view of faith and work?

Tribken: If we truly want to help our fellow humans economically, we should recognize the huge improvements to human well-being brought about by economic liberty, the expansion of markets, and the associated technological advancements over the last 200+ years. This expansion of human flourishing is seen not just in dry economic statistics but also in basic measures of human well-being like life expectancy, maternal health, child mortality, per capita food availability, literacy, physical safety, and other aspects of flourishing. Religious and other organizations that want to help people escape poverty and live better lives should learn the obvious lessons from this history; healthy businesses and economic freedom are essential to eliminate poverty.

Looking at economics from another angle, the Bible affirms each individual’s inherent dignity and agency. Economic freedom and market economies encourage the expression and fulfillment of these aspects of our nature. They also promote the development of community as we work together to achieve mutual goals. While no economic system is perfect, a person has a greater chance of finding work that expresses their values and leads to fulfillment in a market economy than in a state-controlled one. They are more likely to find work and situations where they can flourish economically, psychologically, and spiritually. This, too, should be important from a religious perspective.

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