Saturday, September 03, 2022

Purposeful Work Emerges In the Garden of God's Presence

                                              (Crossing Lake Michigan on The Badger)

I have a friend who loves to work in his large vegetable and flower garden. He talks about needing "garden time." I say to him, "That's your therapy." Working for a purpose brings inner satisfaction. 

Purpose grows in the garden of God's presence. In terms of priority, presence is prior to purpose.

Purpose comes out of prayerfulness. In prayer one hears the call of God to "Go," or "Do." Famously, doing emerges out of being.

From God's POV there's no such thing as a small call. To work at a task God calls me to brings emotional and spiritual fulfillment. This applies to even small, seemingly insignificant tasks. 

For example, whenever I arrive home and see dishes that need to be done, I do them if possible. I love doing the dishes. The telos, or purpose, for me is: this will please my wife Linda. When she gets home she will notice. I like the thought of freeing up her life. I love Linda, and love sets people free. This is laboring with a greater purpose.

To work with purpose in life is to co-labor with God and his purposes. Here we are at the heart of true prayer, which is: talking with God about what we (God and I) are doing together. I want to come to the end of my life knowing God has worked through me to accomplish his desires. That is not only good, but it is therapy for the soul.

To labor with no sense of purpose is a kind of hell. It is boredom. "Boredom" is not having nothing to do; boredom is finding no meaning in what you are doing.

Purposeless work produces inner agitation. It is useless and ill-directed action of the body. I continue to meet people who live purposeless lives, and thus experience a constant back-and-forth movement in their disquieted spirit.

Thomas Merton is helpful here. He writes:

“Work occupies the body and the mind and is necessary for the health of the spirit. Work can help us to pray and be recollected, if we work properly. Agitation, however, destroys the spiritual usefulness of work and even tends to frustrate its physical and social purpose. Agitation is the useless and ill-directed action of the body. It expresses the inner confusion of a soul without peace.

Work brings peace to the soul that has a semblance of order and spiritual understanding. Agitation -- a condition of spirit that is quite normal in the world of business -- is the fruit of tension in a spirit that is turning dizzily from one stimulus to another and trying to react to fifteen different appeals at the same time. Under the surface of agitation, and furnishing it with its monstrous and inexhaustible drive, is the force of fear or elemental greed for money, or pleasure, or power. The more complex a man’s passion, the more complex his agitation.

All this is the death of the interior life. Occasional church-going and the recitation of hasty prayers have no power to cleanse this purulent wound.” (No Man Is an Island, 114-115)

To work for the goals of money, pleasure, or power is to EMPOWER the agitated heart. It brings "the death of the interior life." The antidote to this is: dwell, now, in Christ. (See John 14-16)

Abide in Jesus. Let him shepherd your soul. A little bit of churchgoing won't help. Constant abiding will. Out of this Christ-dwelling comes not only his peace and joy, but life purpose.

Pray, and work properly, for a greater purpose.

I talk about prayer as purposeful activity in my book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.