He sits down at a desk and opens a book, ready to study. He pauses. Reaching deep into his pocket, the young man pulls out a small crucifix, kisses it, and places it down. He mutters a few words to himself, and then begins his work for the day.
It is nothing extraordinary, but still something rather heroic that transforms the rest of his work. That’s the way my friend, Jean Guerreiro, studies.
For many of us, our lives as students can seem tedious, and at times, a bit stressful. Monday rolls around, and we sigh. The weekend is over. Here it comes: another week of work. We’ve let work become a source of pain rather than of joy. Of course, the curse of Adam has made it harder to enjoy work, but with Christ’s coming, he restored the dignity of work.
“We must be convinced therefore that work is a magnificent reality,” one wise man said.
It can be tiring at times, but with the right intention, we can transform our work into a place for meeting Christ.
Look at the example of Our Lord. Where did he spend most of his life? He lived it working in his carpenter shop: making tables, sharpening tools, and walking to buy more lumber. Imagine watching him, toiling away in the shop. How inspiring! If there’s anything we should be imitating, it’s the way Christ worked. He reminds us that we must embrace our work and that it can be a very joyful experience when connected with Him.
Let’s say on average, we work (including class time) eight hours a day. If we were to continue that after college and into our profession for about forty years (which is reasonable), we’d end up spending about 96,000 hours working. Imagine if we could turn all of that into prayer and not have to wait to escape to the local church or chapel to find Our Lord? What if we could turn our workspace into its own little oratory?
We can achieve this reality by finishing off our work well, really well. I love the scene from The Passion when Mel Gibson depicts Christ constructing a table. We see Our Lord absorbed in his work and set on making the table the best one yet. After finishing the final touches, he sits on top of it to feel if it’s level. It’s a small detail, but one that captures the love and intensity with which Our Lord accomplished His work.
To be clear though, doing our work well doesn’t necessarily mean scoring an A on our paper, receiving the best scholarship, or getting the best job. It just means giving our best effort. Know what “best effort” is for you. We each have our own talents that God expects us to use to their fullest. Think about the gifts of Cain and Abel: Abel pleased God because he gave God his very best. Let’s strive to do the same, but with balance. Years ago, my mom told me this story of her turning in her report card to her dad. Without looking at it, he would always ask, “Did you do your best?” Her response was always yes. “Then I don’t care what you got,” would be his reply. Our Lord wants excellence, not perfection. Otherwise, we cease being human and turn into tightly wound-up perfectionists.
Try putting an intention to it. Offer it up for a friend or close family member. This small detail transforms our work into a reality not only for ourselves, but also for those around us. We now become co-redeemers through our work.
Finally, welcome Our Lord into the task. Ask for His help. Tell Him you want to give these next 40 minutes to Him. Dr. Kevin Majeres, Harvard psychologist and founder of OptimalWork, offers many practical tips for achieving quality work while still maintaining this relationship with Christ. In one of his lectures, he spoke to how one part of our brain concentrates on our work while a different part of us keeps the presence of God. Moral of the story: we can work and talk to Our Lord at the same time. How about that for multitasking?
He finishes his task. He pauses. Putting down his book, the young man retrieves his small crucifix, kisses it, and stuffs it back into his trouser pocket. He mutters a few words to himself, and then ends his work for the day. Christ awaits us. Let’s go out to meet him and turn our work into a joyful reality.