In Ecclesiastes, the philosopher “Qoheleth,” contemplates the plight of the worker and says, “So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” Ecclesiastes 2:17
Wow. That’s dark. As I mentioned before in last week’s post, this section of this summer’s reading selection, Every Good Endeavor, by Timothy Keller, covers the more troublesome and challenging aspects of work. In particular, how work can feel pointless in a fallen and finite world.
To take an even darker turn, when you look at the numbers across the board, it’s obvious that the meaninglessness of work is prevalent in America, leading to burnout and spurring a mental health crisis among professionals.
Suicide rates across the country are the highest they’ve been since World War II, according to TIME magazine, and depression among millennials is at an all time high. US employees are increasingly pointing to work as a source of mental health stress, with more than half of workers saying their job contributed negatively to their mental health.
So what is really going on here?
I think a few things are happening in our society and specifically in your work lives, which Keller points to in Chapter Six. There is a definite separation between work and God and this chasm leads us to question the long-term sustainability of work. To combat this alienation, pointlessness, and frustration of work, we need to do three things: 1. Choose work you can do well and that taps into your God-given talents; 2. Choose work that benefits others; 3. Choose work where you can benefit the field and sew your legacy into others.
Those may seem lofty goals when not every career inherently allows for such pursuits. However, I would reason that from banker to baker, people are able to create products and services that help each other, use our talents, and set examples for others in the field.
Although work can sometimes feel meaningless, remember that we are each fingers of God, and because of this, we can make small, but discernible differences in the world through our work.
Above and beyond this, we can take solace in the fact that Jesus acknowledges our work and its burden in this life saying, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) No one knew this better than the apostle Paul, who had every reason to be crushed by the heaviness of his work load. He said in 2 Corinthians 4:8, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing.”
I encourage you, if you feel the weight of work and that you’re simply “chasing the wind,” remember your work makes a difference, and God sees and knows your worth.