Here in the United States it’s Labor Day, the annual holiday when we all take off work to celebrate the heroic efforts of the Working Man (and Woman). And that got us to thinking: Is it possible to be a slave to work?
Work is an essential element of each of our lives. After all, one of the primary things that God wants us to do in this life is to serve each other, and that service usually takes the form of work. Many, many good things come from work, but sometimes there are some less-than-desirable side effects as well.
We spend a lot of time here talking about how money and associated things can make slaves of us if we’re not careful. This is true of work just like it is anything else. Though work is important, if it takes on an over-sized role in your life, it’s going to start to make you a slave. Here are five warning signs that will help you see when this is happening.
1) You “take it home with you.”
Most work is designed to be done at the office (or the store, the job site, etc.), and it’s rarely necessary to bring your work home with you. Even if you work from home, you should have a certain area of the house where you do your work, and a certain time of the day that’s set aside for working. But sometimes we begin bringing work home with us, whether in a literal or figurative sense, and that work begins to overflow into time and space set aside for other things. While the occasional overtime push for a special project or a big deadline is often part of life, it’s important to keep this from becoming a regular part of your work schedule. If work takes away too much of your personal time or plagues your thoughts long after you’ve left the office, it may have made a slave of you.
2) It keeps you from people and things you love.
One of the primary purposes of work is that it helps us earn money to take care of the people that we love, and hopefully some extra cash to spend doing the things that we enjoy or care about. When work gets out of control, though, it can often tie us up and keep us from enjoying those people and things that we care so much about. When we spend too much time away from our families, miss too many special occasions, find ourselves unable to attend too many church events and realize that we haven’t had any free time for hobbies in ages, that’s a good clue that work has outgrown its proper role in our lives and has begun to enslave us.
3) Work dictates important life decisions.
The work that we do for a living is obviously a huge factor in our lives, and it will influence many of the other decisions that we make, such as where we live, how we spend our time, etc. But there’s a difference between influencing decisions and dictating them. If you find yourself making major life decisions based solely on work considerations, work may have too big a role in your life. Examples would include letting work dictate decisions about marriage or family planning, what part of the country you live in, how much you participate in your church community, etc. Work will influence your decisions, but it should never control them.
4) You hate your job but are afraid to leave.
There are few things more miserable in life than working full time in a job that you can’t stand. And though many of us will go through seasons where our work will be draining or frustrating, it’s not okay to let that turn into a situation where you dread going to the office day after day. If you hate your work, but are afraid to change companies or change careers, then that work may have made a slave of you. And though it’s never wise to quit something without having other options lined up, it’s also not wise to languish in a toxic environment because you don’t have the courage to leave.
5) Work is the source of your identity.
The kind of work we do is often a big factor in the way that we self-identify. Many men in particular identify themselves according to their occupations. And though a lot of positive satisfaction can come from work, it’s dangerous when your work or profession comes to completely define your identity. True identity comes from our relationship with Christ and the community bonds that we build within our families and faith communities. When those identifiers become eclipsed by the prestige of your profession, work has become too big a part of your life.
So the question for today is this: Have you ever noticed any of these tendencies in your work life? If so, what’s the best way to counteract them?
Photo by Christopher Meredith. Used under Creative Commons License.