Thursday, March 1, 2007
Work and Worth
I get my self worth from my work. I’m not proud of that, it has been a constant struggle since I can remember. I started working when I was thirteen, scraping dozens of black-green shutters in ninety-degree weather for about $2 an hour. I hated the work, but I needed money for school clothes and, at the end of the day, there was something that was different in the world because I exerted effort. School was, or maybe still is, the same way for me. Worth is derived from the papers produced and the grades earned. While my grades were never perfect, they were always good. The effort produced a positive result. It was measurable and determinable.
I liked things that were measurable when I was growing up. I liked things that stayed the same and could be understood. So much of my life was not understandable. I didn’t understand why I was the only kid in my class with no dad in the house (or at least it seemed that way), why we never had money to do the fun stuff or why I sat in the library during class trips (also because there was no money). Life was complicated, but work, work was simple and understandable. By the time I was in fifth grade, I began to understand that the marks on the report card were definitely correlative to the effort you put forth. I hated vocabulary tests and math tests, but I would spend hours making flash cards, memorizing facts and figures trying to get the best grade possible. Maybe then my life would be better. Isn’t that the deal? If you get good grades you grow up to be a success, have plenty of money, live in a big house and buy what you want?
All through high school, I continued on fostering my addiction to work and its support of my worth. I found other ways to work, I could join clubs, work with the student council, participate in plays and choral ensembles, all while working thirty hours a week at a grocery store and trying to keep my grades up. I was busy, and I equated busy with valuable.
I still work hard and find myself believing that how productive I am equates to my self worth. That financial remuneration equals value. Since I have been working with SEJMYP I have had to have a gut check on that, however. For two of the years I have been here we have had a freeze on raises, not even give cost of living raises. For somebody that grew up believing the harder you worked the more you would get paid, this has been a hard blow. Does lack of financial reward equate to worthlessness?
Additionally, results in this job are hard to measure. When you do events, you never see if there are any long-term results. You do everything you can to facilitate life-changing decisions, but you don’t get to go home with the youth and see if they stuck. You negotiate contracts, go to meetings, plan and implement the plan with no ability to determine whether your job matters, whether my job matters.
Of course, this is not different from pastoral ministry. My days in the parish had a similar ring. Change in the hearts and minds of a congregation, or an individual for that matter, are often slow to manifest themselves and when you are closest to them you can see it the least. Those of us in ministry, heavily influenced by the American culture of productivity feel as though we need to produce a product rather than facilitate discipleship. In the church I attend the pastor spent last Sunday describing a cold mechanical process that the church was implementing for stamping out disciples. He used the metaphor of the Toyota plant he recently visited and how they stamp out cars out of sheet metal. I don’t want to be stamped.
So how should worth be measured? I think that perhaps it should be measured by proximity to the Holy One of God. The closer I get to Jesus, the more aligned I will be with what God wants me to be about. That is so much easier said than done. It requires a re-writing of a forty-plus year old internal script. It requires a re-centering of my life. It requires a re-alignment of my focus. For me not to measure my value with my paycheck and the numbers who show up at the events I arrange will be a radical departure from my definition of success. I am not sure I can do it and I know that the process will not be fast. It will be slow and painful but if it can be done, I will be closer to God than I have ever been before. Until then I will struggle with finding my worth in my work. I remain:
Consumed by the Call,
Gracious God who defines us as Your children and as keepers of the Imageo Dei, give the ability to re-define who I am by your measure. In the name of the Holy One of God, Jesus, I pray, amen.