A Schoolteacher's Musings · Life Chronicles

The Truth about Work … and the False Promise of the American Dream

There’s a popular Christian song that starts out, “No one ever told me this would be easy … but I never knew that it could be this hard.”

And every Friday when I stumble home, exhausted from another week of teaching, I feel just how true those words are. I often struggle to keep my eyes open over a quiet time at 5:45 in the morning … I have to sometimes say no to church events to make sure I’m getting enough sleep and enough time to grade papers … and all too often my prayer request at Bible study is, “Pray that I would have enough strength for each new day of teaching.”

Because of this, I’ve often been led to wonder if I’ve chosen the wrong career. Are all these long hours and tiring requirements really worth it? I’ve talked it up one side and down the other with all my closest family and friends – should I stay in teaching or should I walk away and try to find something else that wouldn’t be so exhausting?

My heart aches with how much I love getting to teach little ones (actually not-so-little-ones) and getting to create a classroom that feels like a home away from home. Yet my heart also aches with wanting to make sure I actually have time for all that God has called me to – and to enjoy this beautiful life, not just survive from one day to the next. For a person who over-analyzes things and thinks them through to the death, you can imagine how this might torture me with endless internal debate.

And then – this morning, I came to these verses in Ecclesiastes –

“What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun? All his days his work is pain and grief; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is meaningless. A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?” (Ecc. 2:22-25)

“Even at night his mind does not rest” – that describes me to a tee!

But suddenly it came clear as a bell through the pages of Scripture – because of the fall, there will always be an element of work that will be tiring and exhausting. There’s no escaping that. Certainly we can find joy and satisfaction in our work – as Solomon says, that is a gift from God. But all work will still have some “pain and grief” involved in it because we live in a sin-filled world.

The problem is that our culture tends to promise us something different. In America, there is that “golden dream” that whispers once you graduate from college, you’ll find that dream job and your days will be set for the rest of your life. It’s supposed to fulfill you and provide you with a bountiful income so you can live a life of ease.

And we buy into that lie. Whether we mean to or not, we expect that we should get plenty of vacation, leisure time, and “fun” out of life and work shouldn’t get in the way of that – certainly not if it’s making us tired all the time!

I’m not saying that there’s something wrong with vacation, leisure, and fun. For a balanced life, I believe that those things are important. But it’s not something we should be expecting that we “deserve.” Honestly, most Americans probably have too much of that … for even the “middle-class” of our society is far wealthier than those living in third-world countries – many of whom work multiple, back-breaking jobs just to survive.

And I’m complaining because I’m feeling a little sleep-deprived this week?

The truth about work is that it was never intended to fulfill us in and of itself.

That privilege belongs to God and God alone – yet we so subtly allow work to creep in and become that thing we expect to be ultimately satisfying. And when it’s not – when there are flaws with it or it’s hard and challenging or we don’t feel like getting out of bed because of it some days – we complain and start looking in other directions. We start looking for something a little more fun and easy and not so tiring.

Yet it is elusive – we’d do better chasing the wind. Our hearts are restless when we seek joy apart from God, but still we try – day after day looking for something a little bit “happier.”

What we really need to tell our college graduates is this –

“Look. Your job will be difficult and tiring. You will come home at night sometimes ready to throw in the towel. You will wonder if it’s all worth it. But that’s when you have to buckle in and roll up your shirt sleeves. You have to have grit and determine that it IS worth it and that you will do this beautiful thing you’ve been called to for the glory of God.”

“Nothing worth accomplishing was ever come by easily” said some famous person at one point in history … and it’s true. Furthermore, our accomplishments in the end will never give us the satisfaction we seek. They will feel satisfying for a fleeting amount of time, and then they will fade, and all that will be left is our eternity with Christ – the only thing that can truly satisfy a soul.

So listen to me, my tired friend, with the restless mind that won’t stop thinking at night – God has given this task to you during your sojourn on earth. Unfortunately it’s not an easy task – but the harder it is, the stronger you will become. And the stronger your faith will grow in Christ as you turn your gaze again and again to the One who gives all meaning to life.

In Him alone can our souls find rest – and to Him alone be all the glory at the end of the day.

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