At Work & Theology 101

Examining Our Aspirations & Worship in the Great Resignation

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The term “Great Resignation” might not initially inspire scrutiny of our aspirations or worship, but it’s surprising where a closer look at this cultural phenomenon leads.

Over the last couple years, the moniker Great Resignation has evolved as different perspectives have been surveyed, studied, and offered, and many claim that it is not so much a Great Resignation as, according to the Harvard Business Review, a Great Aspiration. Are people deciding not to work or are they evaluating their opportunities in a dramatically changing work environment? Perhaps it’s a little of both.

Mene Ukueberuwa, in the Wall Street Journal article, “The Underside of the Great Resignation,” says that there are several reasons for massive resignations, not the least of which are the pandemic, vaccine requirements, and population aging. But according to Nichoas Eberstadt, author of Men Without Work (2016), the decline has been happening for a while. “But the work rate for prime-age people—25 to 54—has also been going down since the turn of the century.” 

On the other hand, an Atlantic article, “The Myth that Most Americans Hate Their Job” by Derek Thompson, says that the Great Resignation is due to a plethora of job opportunities, where workers are examining their options and moving to better paying and more suitable jobs.

Clearly, the Great Resignation/Aspiration is complicated, and every individual has unique reasons for leaving the workforce, temporarily or permanently. As we evaluate our jobs, balance sheets, and navigate work environments, it might be a good moment for Christians to think about what God intends for our work, and ultimately, our lives.

Human beings were created by God to work under his direction to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it (Gen. 1:28). Through the blessing of work, we grow stronger, wiser, closer to God, and fill the earth with good things. Sadly, those aren’t the typical outcomes of our work in this sin-spoiled world (Gen. 3), but there are still moments when our work gives us satisfaction, growth, strength, and, not insignificantly, income.

God created us with the potential to develop goals, plans, and aspirations, and our culture affirms those who dream big. As Proverbs 19:21 tells us, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” God desires us to worship him and him alone, but our aspirations can easily be confused with our worship. 

Aspirations 

To what do we aspire in our work? We may begin our careers with a desire to serve others and support ourselves, but as we observe others in the workforce, we may desire more of what they have, which means better jobs, more money, or improved status. It sneaks up on us.

A Pew Research poll found that many felt they could make more money or had better chances for advancement elsewhere. The fortunate ones have found work that pays well, they are well suited for, and that serves a good purpose in society. Others work to pay the bills. Period. 

The Great Resignation is an opportunity to reexamine priorities for those who were forced or chose to resign. Perhaps they were able to spend more time with their families, imagine different occupations, or evaluate their careers as divorced from money. The logical next step is to consider what they aspire to do with their lives. 

Work is an important aspect of our lives, but it’s not the most important. God may be using the Great Resignation to rearrange people into different occupations, provide rest for overworked individuals, or promote a reconsideration of life’s priorities and direction—or all three. 

Ask yourself if you aspire to serve God with your work or if you expect your work to serve your aspirations. Then ask yourself this question: To what do you aspire in your life

Worship

An article in The Atlantic, “What the Anti-Work Discourse Gets Wrong,” informs us that Silicon Valley companies are providing spiritual services to their employees so that they can worship their work more effectively and profitably. The author, Carolyn Chen, says, 

At a time when religious-affiliation rates are at the lowest they’ve been in the past 73 years, we worship work—meaning we sacrifice for and surrender to it—because it gives us identity, belonging, and meaning, not to mention that it puts food on our tables. If the American theocracy of work is to be dismantled, it won’t happen by just changing jobs or attitudes. It will require a fundamental transformation in the social system that dictates which institutions we derive fulfillment from.

Chen goes on to say, “Businesses are gradually positioning themselves as our new houses of worship, feeding people a gospel of divine purpose within the workplace. Silicon Valley is not an outlier but a harbinger for American professionals.”

That is sobering. Where do you look for fulfillment? Is it possible that you have begun to worship your work? Most people wouldn’t say they are switching jobs to find a more gratifying house of worship, but subconsciously that could be exactly what they are doing. 

The difference between worshiping God at work and worshiping work may be subtle, but its implications are anything but trivial. Ask yourself who you worship: God or your work? Put in more concrete terms, are you more willing to sacrifice and surrender to your job or to God? 

The Great Resignation has given many the opportunity to evaluate where and why they’re working, and has offered a different perspective on their faith, family, and work balance. Some have made adjustments; others have not. The impact of the Great Resignation will not be fully understood for years, but Christians can take immediate advantage of it by asking ourselves two important questions: To what do we aspire? Who, or what, do we worship? 

Honestly answered, these questions have the potential to reshape and redirect a life.

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