Work. I’ve had to re-think what that means, in my simplicity journey.
Like most people, I’ve been brought up with the unexamined assumptions that work is something you wouldn’t do if you didn’t have to, undertaken because it turns a profit.
For some time (decades, I mean) I’ve had my nose to the trail of a life and work shaped by particular principles.
- An ethically responsible financial trail. The projects I do for money link me directly with those paying my fees. If what I do isn’t up to snuff, it stops there. If my books were no good, the publisher would have no compunction in turning down the next one. If my editing were rubbish everyone concerned would know at once. When people ask me to take funerals, it’s because someone recommended me. And the people who pay the money get the goods. It’s not like being an employee of a large organisation where accountability can be hard to trace and responsibility can be passed on. I earn money on a definitely what-you-see-is-what-you-get basis. Nothing hidden, remote or anonymous. Same with the cottage I let out. I like it that my money is invested in someone’s home, that I am personally responsible for maintaining. No mysterious stocks and share holdings that I’m not quite sure where the money is invested. Direct, accountable, personal. That feels good to me.
- Arising authentically from my heart, my faith, my soul. I have never created anything that could be described as ‘product’, and any publishers using that term in my hearing have lost their working relationship with me. My writing is not formulaic ‘product’, cooked up to tempt the appetite of passers-by. Into the books and articles I’ve written I’ve poured all the truth I know – the best light I can shine held as high as I can lift it, for those whose hearts are also hungry for reality.
- Permaculture principles of zoning applied to relationship, with a system of priorities starting with personal integrity, moving out to embrace my intimate circle of family and friends, then those with whom professional commitments bring me into contact, then anyone else who by grace has showed up into my life. So, even in those seasons when I’ve had a very hectic schedule, the people close to me were my first priority, and that was non-negotiable. Still is.
- Meaningful occupation useful to other people, put to the service of enlarging the Kingdom of God on earth – enhancing compassion, justice, kindness, truth, integrity and the wellbeing of creation.
So, for me, ‘work’ as a concept may have something or nothing to do with money. My mother was unwaged most of her adult life; I never knew anyone who worked harder. She worked constructively, she fed and housed her family through her work – but money came into it very little. She kept hens and sheep (raised orphan lambs almost given away), grew fruit and vegetables, bought and sold the homes we lived in for steadily increasing amounts. She avoided debt, preferring frugality, seeing what ingenuity could do.
I like to work, because I like to be helpful and useful. I am at Christ’s service. But work can be anything from hanging out the laundry to preaching a sermon to preparing a tenancy agreement to writing a novel to cleaning the bathroom to cooking the supper to leading a quiet day to putting out the dustbins to conducting a funeral. Some is paid, some isn’t; doesn’t matter. Work is not that which earns money – one’s income may be entirely unconnected from one’s work. A person’s work is the contribution they were born to make; as the robin is born to sing and the river is born to make its way to the sea.
Work is natural, it is joyous, it is vocation as well as occupation. It’s what Frederick Buechner said: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
This is my daughter Hebe’s work:
This is my daughter Alice’s work:
Either of them could have earned more on the checkout at Asda – a useful and honourable occupation for sure, but not how they were called into this life to serve.