Yes, my children, I’m aware of what day of the week it is, but just because Friday it is, work we still must do. And, did you know that Friday is a regular occurrence? It actually comes once a week…
And thank God it does.
My students today, some of them, had some difficulty focusing on research. Thus the title and inspiration for this post.
“Ms. Carmichael,” one scholar gabbles as I walk by on my circular rounds through my ever studious class. “If someone gave you a million dollars, would you give them an “A”?”
First, this is a preposterous proposal. I should have ignored it…but it’s Friday.
“Absolutely not,” I assert with a superior moral air. “I cannot be bought.” Which is probably true.
They don’t believe me and immediately several of the less than focused scholars begin to protest.
“Children,” I begin (they may be 18, but I still call them children…because, well, they are my children). “I assure you, I would not be able to live with myself if I accepted any kind of bribe and deprived someone of the education they deserve.”
I feel pretty confident this is true. I found $20 in the hallway earlier in the week. I spent a good deal of time trying to track down who could have dropped it. I ended up giving the money to a more worthy cause. I couldn’t keep it for myself. I didn’t earn it; it wasn’t mine; I felt guilty keeping it.
“But, Ms. Carmichael. It’s a million dollars.”
“Yes, but it’s not always about the money. And at the end of the day I do have to live with myself.”
“Which you could do a lot more comfortably with the money,” he sneers.
“Do you think I couldn’t make more money at another job if I wanted to? I didn’t become a teacher because I had to. I could have done a number of things. I graduated third in my class from high school and had a near perfect GPA in college. I am perfectly capable of choosing a profession and excelling at a profession that could generate a much higher capital. I teach because I want to.”
Another student smiles and puts in, somewhat smugly, “And if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.”
I turned to this student. “No,” I said. “That’s not true.” It’s total poppycock actually.
“But it is true!” he insisted. “Because if you are doing what you love, you aren’t actually working.”
“That’s a naive cliche,” I said simply. “I do what I love. Every day. I teach you all, then I go home and I write. But I also work my tail off.Constantly, without reprieve sometimes. Just because you enjoy your work, doesn’t make it any less complicated, hard or grueling–Life is hard. The only way to be successful is to work at it. Any thing worth doing is worth working for.”
I would wager to guess that many of us go to work each day and spend at least a small (though often it is large) percentage of time complaining about something.
There is no coffee in the pot.
Someone ate the last donut.
There is a weird smell.
My boss…OMG, my boss…
The children are wild.
My subordinates are needy.
I don’t get paid enough.
I could go on for days, because I’ve been there. Stress with a capital STRESS, can cause us to be cranky with a capital CRANK and IE just to add an extra letter in there for emphasis. But what if it’s not our jobs, or the people, or the place or even the money that leads to the feelings and emotions stacking up one on top of the other day after day? What if it’s about perspective?
While reading Satisfy My Thirsty Soul, by Linda Dillow I’ve been challenged in many ways. Dillow challenges readers to wake up to the many ways in which we worship—or should worship—each and every day of our lives. Often the term ‘worship’ is misused. It is not a synonym for music. Worship is any way we pay reverence or homage to God. Dillow expands this definition by exploring how we as individuals can worship with our lives, our words, our attitudes—and, as in the chapter I most recently read, our work.
I spend a lot of time at work. And now I have two jobs.
My first job is at school—I do a lot of complaining at this job. More than I wish I did, but less than most because while I do get frustrated I do honestly love what I do. Do I believe things could be better? Absolutely. Do I believe it is a demanding profession? You betcha. Am I often disheartened and disillusioned by the thanklessness of the teenagers who I spend hours of my time trying to help just to hear them say: ‘this is stupid’? Of course. But complaining really doesn’t do any good. In fact, all it does it stress me and the people around me out. And who wants that. So why do I do it?
I call it “venting”. That makes it sound better, right?
But what if I train myself to look at my work differently? What if instead of getting frustrated that the teenager still doesn’t have his homework—what if I turn my work into praise?
Laborare est orare; orare est laborare.
Dillow uses this phrase in her book, but it actually comes from the Rule of St. Benedict, a book of precepts written around 529 CE. This is not a new concept. Work is worship (or prayer); Worship is work. For centuries, Monks have used this concept to help keep balance in the monastery (when it wasn’t corrupted I suppose). The point is, everything you do is worship—and work should not be an exception. So if I can shift my perception and see my work as worship then perhaps I can help bring more joy to not only my life, but the people around me as well.
But how do I do this? On Friday one of my kids came racing down the hall as the final bell rang and into my classroom. He jumped over a couple of desks in a hurry to sit down. I was tired. And frankly not in the mood to deal with rambunctious teenagers. I frowned at him and scolded a little about his lack of propriety, but in retrospect all he was doing was what I had asked–showing energy and that he was trying to get to class on time. I could have fed off that energy and made the class, all of whom were a bit riled up by the act, more energetic and engaging as a result. Instead I was cranky. “Ms Carmichael you seem a bit cranky. You ok?” Another student asked. I responded as you might imagine a cranky teacher might respond. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t allow students to climb on the desks like monkeys or anything, but the attitude I have when I respond to it is what makes or breaks my class and quite frankly distinguishes me as a teacher, which leads me back to bowing my work, something I don’t do nearly as often as I need to. Especially the last 2 years. I’ve had these battles and I need to lay them at the cross each morning when I get up. I am a teacher.
But I can’t do it on my own. Nor should I try. As it happens, I was also reading Francis Chan’s book this week Forgotten God. I don’t think it was a coincidence that much of what Chan writes applied directly to what I learned from Dillow. Chan points out that James 4:3 tells us that we can ask for wisdom, guidance, direction and the Holy Spirit all day long, but if we ask for the wrong reasons, God’s answer is going to be no. Our reasons have to be to bring him glory, not to bring our self glory or as the verse says to “spend it on our passions.” As a teacher I know that I have the opportunity to touch so many lives each and every day, but I have to understand that “our desire to live should be for the sake and glory of the God who put us on this earth in the first place” (Chan). And I think I too often forget that—which is where I fail most often.
And so I come to my second job, writing—which is where I really have to be careful not to want to spend all my askings on my own passions. Teaching gives me a daily reminder that there are others out there—writing is not as straight forward. Now that I have published Valerie’s Vow, I know I have readers; my publisher gave me the good news about my book this weekend. It’s selling at the top (tied with another book—A Ripple in the Water by Donna Small) of their books on the site and on Amazon. Even so, it’s not a constant reminder. Currently I working on novel that is not a sequel to Valerie’s Vow, but is written in a very similar style—the working title is Clara’s Chance. While I outlined the story and I know where I want it to go, it still has a life of its own. What I keep reminding myself is that my writing is not just for me. I write because I want to use the talent I have been blessed with to bring glory to God, and if I’m not then I have to stop. Vanity and pride are close beside me as I become a creator of something new. It’s beautiful, but ultimately I have to squash them. Because it can’t be about me.
Laborare est orare; orare est laborare.
Encouraging restoration, healing, and expression through writing.