At Work

C.S. Lewis and the Surprising Reason We Desire Fulfillment at Work

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When Friday afternoon arrives, sometimes we feel the sense of elation that we will cast off the bonds of our vocational labors and embark on a journey of recreation and rest.

Too soon it seems that Monday morning is looming, and we are back in the harness again for another week of toil.

In the midst of this cycle, we feel a deep longing in our souls for meaning in our weekly work beyond our paycheck and the sometimes minor progress we see.

In The Weight of Glory, a sermon preached in the Oxford University Church of St. Mary the Virgin in 1941, C. S. Lewis describes some of that deep longing and offers hope for its fulfillment.

A Desire Which No Natural Happiness Will Satisfy

The first step is recognizing what that deep longing is.

It is a longing for shalom, for the peace and satisfaction that will be found ultimately in the New Heavens and New Earth.

Lewis writes,

Now, if we are made for heaven, the desire for our proper place will be already in us, but not yet attached to the true object, and will even appear as the rival of that object.

We witness the misplaced pursuit of fulfillment in a million activities that fall short of being truly satisfying.

As Lewis explains it, we sometimes work to squash our longing and content ourselves with “mud pies in a slum” instead of pursuing an infinitely superior “holiday by the sea.”

This trading down for what is already in our grasp reveals our willingness to sacrifice true satisfaction of the quiet longing that encourages us, in a whisper, to pursue something more.

This makes sense, Lewis argues, since:

Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice; almost all our modern philosophies have been devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on this earth.

And yet, “this desire for our own far-off country, which we find in ourselves even now” never ceases.

According to Lewis, “Do what they will, then, we remain conscious of a desire which no natural happiness will satisfy.”

A Desire for a Far Off Country

Remaining conscious of “a desire which no natural happiness will satisfy” seems to expand our poverty in this life rather than resolving our problem.

If we are consumed by a desire which cannot be fulfilled by this world, our longing can only become more extreme and insatiable, right?

Lewis offers hope that our deep desire for a far off country can be fulfilled in this world when we see the objects of this world as the types of the glorious objects that have yet to be revealed.

This is what Paul wrote about in Romans 8:18-25.

Both we and the rest of creation have a deep desire for fulfillment in the future.

This is an “eager longing” (v. 19) in creation that will be satisfied because, as Paul writes in verses 21 and 23:

Creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God…. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

Lewis explains how this is experienced in the present, saying,

We are summoned to pass in through Nature, beyond her, into that splendor which she fitfully reflects.

It is not by escaping from the created order that we are fulfilled.

Rather, it is by seeing created objects for what they will become and relishing them for that future state – that potential – in which we have our longings satisfied.

A Desire Grander than Dollars and Cents

The envisioning of objects in their redeemed state is a transition from mere self-denial to love, from making do to pursuing glory.

This begins with seeing people in light of what they will become.

As Lewis argues,

It is a serious thing…to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creation which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or the other of these destinations.

Meaning in our work is found not in our paycheck or basic productivity, but in the degree of love we show to others through our actions and attitudes.

As we help others – coworkers and clients – to move toward their glorious potential, we can find satisfaction in accomplishing something of eternal significance.

This does not excuse us from being productive and earning an honest paycheck, but it does frame the purpose of our labors in terms grander than dollars and cents.

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