More Than Our Daily Bread
As I continue to think about, and talk to others about prayer, it has become obvious to me that prayer is far more than words and thoughts. I am deeply attracted to the idea of prayer as action, a behavioral manifestation of what we believe, hope, honor and celebrate in our hearts and spirit. It seems to me that work, the jobs we do for a living, offers a perfect petri dish in which this can happen.
On one hand, work is usually a "daily practice", with many opportunities for connections with others, and/or long periods of time for free-flowing thoughts. But also, like prayer, work can become rote. We can do it without thinking, without connecting it with a larger picture. And this can become boring and tedious. It can become difficult to do, and sometimes may feel as though it is yielding few results. We can often feel trapped in work by the paycheck or lack of opportunities to do anything else.
Feeling this way may bring us into counseling, or motivate us to Google "graduate programs" or "jobs abroad". It may also find its way onto our prayer list.
I experienced something similar in my own life a number of years ago. My job was not boring but was beginning to feel meaningless. I remember one day sitting at my desk, thinking, "I can't grow old in this job". I had no college degree or a large bank account, and I had spent 10 years devoted to this career, acquiring a good reputation and a secure future. I had a hard time explaining this discomfort to others and to myself; the best I could say was, "this is a great job but I need a life's work".
The writer Studs Terkel describes work this way: It is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread...". (https://en.wikipedia.ord/wiki/Working: People Talk About What They Do Everyday and How They Feel About It )
I think this is the "Eureka!" moment in our work life. I think if we can shift our perspective, even by a sliver, to seeing our work as a way to find meaning in our lives, it will happen.
Once in an eerie juxtaposition of events, I saw this in action. A colleague of mine, a woman who was a member of a religious order for many years, made the life changing decision to leave religious life altogether. She continued to teach and to counsel, living a prayer-filled life serving God, but on terms that she had carefully put together for herself. At exactly the same time, I worked with a client who, at 40, after having raised a family, and gone through a painful divorce, decided to enter a religious order and become a nun! She felt very strongly that with this choice she was moving toward something that would help her serve God better.
Neither woman regretted her earlier choice, but both recognized that if they were to continue to find meaning in their lives, a different set of circumstances were required. In both cases, they were able to sort this out through prayer and thoughtful counsel with trusted others.
In my own work crisis, I did not pray in the usual way about this; I did not believe in the kind of prayer that asked God for guidance. But I was able to connect with a wisdom deep inside me, one that was intensely personal, completely clear and powerful. I found my answers and the routes, tools and support systems that were necessary to move me forward.
I believe that every step toward this insistence on finding meaning in work, every action born out of that wisdom, was, in fact, a prayer: a kind of "Hallelujah!" each time I connected this wisdom within me, to the larger purpose I perceived outside me, implicit in the goal of a "life's work".
A friend of mind once despaired that "not everyone has the luxury of spending their time searching for meaning!" Of course, I begged to differ! A shift of perspective does not cost money or involve more schooling, or even a change in jobs. It is simply to consider, however improbable it may seem, that meaning exists in everyday situations and to begin looking for them with an open heart and mind. Really, just this act creates a prayer.
Treat yourself to a viewing of the Oscar-winning movie, Chariots of Fire, to see a beautiful example of this shift in perspective occur when the great Scottish runner Eric Liddell explains to his sister that the missionary work he views as his life's work must wait while he competes in the Olympics: "God chose me, for China, yes, but He also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure."
Every run becomes a prayer. I propose that each work moment offers the same opportunity.