The Value of Work
“How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rest unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life!”
During my five years working at UnitedHealthcare, I would periodically attend meetings at the headquarters building in Minnetonka. I was often greeted there by Lee Werness, a receptionist, who always had a smile on her face and an encouraging word on her lips. Although I only saw her once every month or so, she knew my name and always shared something encouraging with me. One day she wasn’t there, and I learned that she had recently passed away as a result of a sudden stroke. I later learned through her obituary that she was 82 years old.
In his classic poem “Ulysses”, Tennyson describes an old age of idleness as a burden rather than a gift, and he yearns to “shine in use.” Lee was definitely a shining light at the UnitedHealthcare headquarters building, doing what she was meant to do down to her last days.
In the book “The Mirage and Dignity on the Highways of Human ‘Progress’” author Lukman Harees promotes the value of work. “Our life is an odd mixture of different moments of action and inaction, work and rest. Work provides us with an inner creative joy. It saves us from the dullness and boredom of life. It puts our energies to proper use. Unused energies create disorders in us. They make us physically unhealthy and mentally unhappy. Time hangs heavy on our shoulders when there is no work. It provides us with money for our livelihood. It makes our life meaningful and peaceful. Idleness is more tiresome and painful than work. Even the most unpaid, unimportant and unpleasant work is better than no work.”
In the book “Every Good Endeavor – Connecting Your Work to God’s Work” author Timothy Keller describes the pattern of work as rearranging the raw material of God’s creation in such a way that it helps the world in general and people in particular thrive and flourish. If we are to be God’s image bearers with regard to creation, then we will carry on his pattern of work. In chapter three, he cites a number of examples:
The pattern is found in all kinds of work. Farming takes the physical material of soil and seed and produces food. Music takes the physics of sound and rearranges it into something beautiful and thrilling that brings meaning to life. When we take fabric and make a piece of clothing, when we push a broom and clean up a room, when we use technology too harness the forces of electricity, when we take an uninformed, naïve human mind and teach it a subject, when we teach a couple how to resolve their relational disputes, when we take simple materials and turn them into a poignant work of art – we are continuing God’s work of forming, filling and subduing. Whenever we bring order out of chaos, whenever we elaborate and “unfold” creation beyond where it was when we found it, we are following God’s pattern of creative cultural development. In fact, our word “culture” comes from the idea of cultivation. Just as he subdued the earth with his work of creation, so he calls us now to labor as his representatives in a continuation and extension of that work of subduing.
This is what I have been trying to do in my 50 years in the workforce. As a programmer, I transformed electronic bits and bytes into useful business applications. As a project manager, I used people and planning to improve business processes. Now as a personal trainer, I use kineseology and personal care to help improve the health and fitness of my clients.
Lee transformed an ordinary reception desk into a fountain of encouragement, so why stop working at a particular age? After all, Minnesota sports journalist Sid Hartman still writes his column at 99 years old!