Each season of life has its work. If you have children, a lot of your work energy has already been spoken for. It does little good to fret over how much time it takes to chase after a toddler or help an adolescent stay on track in school. You can set a good example to those children by refusing to obsess over having the perfect house, the nicest car, the newest computer technology, and the most stuff. Still, you will have a house full of stuff because kids need stuff and in fact seem to generate it magically while your back is turned. So even the maintenance work you do will carry a message to these young ones you are trying to mentor.
If you are hip-deep in a career, then you will of necessity give major time and energy to that work. If you have the luxury of choice and options—if, for instance, you are privileged to have earned a college degree and have entered a profession—then your decisions about job and workplace are crucial, not only from a professional standpoint but also from the perspective of faith. Does your job help the world or harm it? Through your profession/job, do you reverence humanity or exploit it? In the tasks you perform, where are you along the spectrums of equality, justice, compassion, and charity? Those of us who have options also bear more responsibility for how our work affects society—we are held more accountable than, say, a migrant farm worker whose boss uses dangerous pesticides. The workers must work to survive, and they have little or no means to confront their employers about ethical or moral concerns. It helps to remember that Labor Day was created by the labor movement in this country, to pay tribute to all American workers, including those who fought so hard for better working conditions and for basic laws about how workers should be treated and compensated. So what we do in the workplace—and how we do it—matters a lot, even if the job itself seems quite secular and mundane.
If you are in that season of life that deals out the double challenge of teenage or young adult children and elderly parents, then your meaningful work may be absorbed into the daily work of relationships—and that just might be your main work for a few years. Even if you are working at a job outside the home, what happens in your home and extended family will challenge other obligations. I think it’s entirely appropriate for a person in that position to list “living in tension” as the work that matters! You are meeting deadlines at the office while navigating health care dilemmas with your father or strategizing for more car time with the 15-year-old who has become silent lately.
Some of us stay in the workplace into our late senior years, continuing our contributions in a professional arena. Others retire and find new ways to do meaningful work—through volunteer services, mentoring in their faith communities, or part-time and freelance jobs connected to personal gifts and interests. The fact is, an older person who has cultivated a robust interior life becomes freer, as the years go by, to “not” work—to simply be present to herself and the people around her. Anyone who has been loved by a strong grandmother figure knows that this work is powerful indeed.
This is just a start; please add your comments. What other types of “work” arrive with our different life seasons?