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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  • raymond

    With all do respect. Theory is all well and good, still it’s men and women from academia who write these articles. In particular a elite like C.S Lewis, and a PhD student at a seminary, commenting on the every day work life of the every day believer who works in the fast food industry, or in the blue collar industry. Book after book, and article after article fails to show practical ways people on the ground level can contribute more. It is inherently theoretical and if ever practical only for the MBA, or owner.

    • Paul

      I beg to differ. There are many examples of practical ways. For eg look at partnersworldwide.org
      And there are many non- academic non- theologian people who are experiencing and sharing this view. Cheers

    • Chris

      Dear Raymond:
      I myself work in a blue collar industry. It is neither theoretical nor impractical for any Christian, be he the holder of an MBA or the holder of a broom, to do all as unto Christ; realizing we serve our true Master and not only men. See the future potential of what you do in service to Christ, however small or seemingly insignificant. See others (even those who have not yet submitted their lives to His lordship) in light of their potential future in Christ. Looking at your work, and those with whom you work, with the eyes of Jesus changes all work from mundane to sacred. May God richly bless you my brother.

      • raymond

        Chris, thank you for your reply. I understand what you are saying, and I think, perhaps, you are addressing the wrong issue. I agree that all Christians can/should work for the glory of God, and such work enlightens our life, even in suffering. I am saying it seems disingenuous to write so many books and articles about this stuff only from partiality. Only from the white collar perspective. That’s all. Not every Christian/ beloved in Christ are business owners or MBA ivy class people, yet these type of movements seem to be geared solely to that type of worker. Review the articles, and books they are not written from a blue collar perspective. In regards to practicality I am aiming more towards speaking to real work place issues which Christians outside seminary, church, or para- church organizations deal with, such as slander in the workplace, evolving trends, layoffs, and such. Christians at the ground level bring light to their work place, as they should so lets see some articles written by them. This could happen, they submit their thoughts and then with love educated brothers and sisters could lovingly edit the material. From here Business class and Acadmia would benefit from ground level data, and the ground level beloved would be heard.

        • Chris

          Raymond:
          Would you agree that a false dichotomy is often made between the “secular” world and the “sacred?” You and I should know well that, in truth, there is no aspect of living the Christian life that can be classified as “secular.” If we can agree upon that fundamental understanding of what it means to be a Christian, then perhaps you will consider the possibility that attempts to divide the family of Christ by economic class is also a false endeavor. Frankly, I see no need for my “educated” brothers and sisters to “lovingly edit” my material. Please consider Acts 4:13; “Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.” Class distinctions are cast off within the family of God; but good writing is still good writing, and a clear presentation of the Gospel glorifies God whether presented by a Harvard don or a guy who works at a lubricants warehouse like me. Think for a moment: Is it any less prejudicial to lambaste Lewis as an “elite” than for a “Master of Business Administration” to classify me as “blue collar?” As for the article in question here, I see nothing “classist” in its content. The summary phrase in Mr. Spencer’s piece is universal in application: “Meaning in our work is not found in our paycheck or basic productivity [nor by the color of my collar], but in the degree of love we show to others in our actions and our attitudes.” I find nothing disingenuous about applying the love of Christ at work, which to C.S. Lewis’ frame of reference is to envision our “white collar” brothers and sisters as equals in sin; thus equals in potential for repentance and justification by the grace of God through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. There is no work place issue that can possibly be more real than the gospel; and the ground is all level at the foot of the cross.
          Grace and peace to you, my brother.
          Chris

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