Recently I gave a talk on this subject, daring to address it for the first time from a completely different perspective, to the surprise of many as a result. To cut to the chase I said: if you want to end your lukewarm Spiritual Life, devote more attention to the way you deal and manage your work life. Of course this applies to everybody – to those who don't work, who can't work – with everyone being invited to make themselves busy, because “idleness is the mother of all vices”. It is important not to create empty moments in your day, because the Devil takes advantage of them, finds space in you and starts to tempt you: thoughts start to go around in circles in your mind – and this tends to be dangerous and unhealthy.
Now, to return to the point: to pay greater attention to the way you commit to work and the quality of the way you deal with your work in a committed way, with attention to detail, accuracy, and quality.
First of all work takes up a large proportion of our day – one third! We can't neglect or discard a third of our existence.
Then too, we can't create a dichotomy between on the one hand “Work” and on the other hand our “Spiritual Life”. Work is not essentially a burden imposed on us so that we can earn our living or a duty we can't escape from. As John Paul II used to say: work makes us realise ourselves in life. Therefore, we can't just live with the mental attitude: “I am waiting until I finish work in order to breath and do what I would like to do” be it hobbies, other business, rest, prayer. This would resemble a schizophrenic way of dealing with work and life. On the contrary there is a deep unity in our day and in our business-life. We can't exclude work from the values of our day, and even worse, we can't split our spiritual life into two parts: “alien pagan business” (i.e. work) and “holy activities” (i.e. prayer, spiritual life). Of course I am not going as far as some to state: “work is prayer/worship”, but I am highlighting the fact that it is still the same “you” who works, who deals with others, who has a place in the world and society through your work. If work has little or no meaning for you, or even if it is seen as a burden, it is important to “work on” that issue because it is destructive, it doesn't create deep peace in you, and leads to a feeling of being unsettled, unsatisfied and frustrated. A significantly large part of your energy is involved, then, in something that is damaging you. Is this good? Can this contribute to a good and healthy Spiritual Life? Does this please God?
The situation is exacerbated by unemployment, for how then can we find fulfilment in some form of work, even be it voluntary work? How can we see God present during those daily eight or more hours? This is the challenge and one of the first steps that will help us to emerge from a lukewarm Spiritual Life.
Of prime importance in this light is Order. A disorganised person in daily life often creates a disorganised spiritual life. The goal is not to have random virtues, but to practise them in an organised way. One can have excellent virtues but if they are managed badly, great damage can result.
Thus the effort we make to create an image of ourselves for the world, to take our place in it, to grow, is of utmost importance. When the young rich man asked Jesus what he was supposed to do in order to gain Eternal Life, the Lord did not immediately reply to him: “come and follow me.” No! He started by assessing the human foundations of the young man's Call, when he asked the latter whether he had fulfilled Moses' commandments? Let us for a moment consider the hypothesis that the answer was “no”, and that this gentleman was not working, or better still, was not happy in his work life. Granted, nobody admits that “work” is always an enjoyable experience, free of stress, and effort! There is no reward without the necessary effort, although of course, one can adjust effort/energy, time, quality and outcome, to see if it is worth it, in order to employ most efficiently one's talents, capacity, expertise, and so on.
But here, in my humble view, within a serious and committed spiritual life, what matters is to focus on our work and a place where God is as well. Work is not an empty space where God is absent. God is not waiting for us outside of our Work-Space only. He is waiting for us during our work time. This is why doing high quality work is important. Negligence, random acts and careless behaviour in work cannot expect a good spiritual life to result.
Surprisingly enough, however, God pays attention to this. Just pause for a moment and think of it: you are the same person in the eyes of God when you pray and when you work. Can you deceive yourself? Can you fake it? Can you deceive God? Impossible! You are the same person, here, there and everywhere. You can't have a double standard: wanting God, wanting on the one hand a good Spiritual Life and have on the other an average quality or standard of work.
Let me take a very simple example: a few years ago I was teaching a young man a way of doing Lectio Divina based on the daily readings of the Mass. He said that he understood, and promised that he would start to practise it. I met him on a regular basis for a few months and checked on his practice of it. He said that he was doing it as I had explained it to him. I never ventured into asking for more details – in hindsight that was an error as we will see. A few years later both of us were involved in doing some cleaning. After having done his part, I asked him whether he had cleaned a particular area, to which he replied in the affirmative. By pure luck, I happened to be passing through the area he had cleaned and to my utter surprise it had not been done properly – or at least, with the thoroughness I had expected. I have to admit this was a big lesson in my life – not to rely on the simple reply: “yes I did it.” I thought bitterly that his answer at odd times was always “ yes, I have done it.” So, I wondered, was his Lectio Divina done in the same way in which he had cleaned that area? This was deeply thought-provoking.
Let us return to the point about work: if you are good at certain things, and you have proved you can do them, then you are handed more important matters to deal with. The Kingdom of God is the most important thing in life, and it is not offered immediately but is preceded by a period of preparation. This is why the Lord himself says: 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with little things; I will put you in charge of greater things.” (Matthew 25:21)
Of course you might be outraged by what I say, and you might extrapolate and apply what I am saying and deduce and conclude differently. But if we try humbly to apply that to ourselves, I am sure we can benefit and emerge from a lukewarm Spiritual Life. I would simply say: why do we expect the Lord to help us exit from a lukewarm lethargic Spiritual Life while we continue to be lukewarm in our work?
To the lay eye they seem unrelated, but I hope you might reconsider it and start to see that the very opposite is true.
God promised the Land to Abraham and swore to give it to him. But in fact, it took more than 400 years to realise this. First and foremost, God wanted Abraham's children to work, become active, commit to daily life and to their society, even if they were in a foreign land (Egypt), living amongst pagans (Egyptians)..; it is only then that He started to make things happen, and with his Arm, he saved them and brought them to a different land.
Let us now explore a question/objection here: can a Committed Spiritual Life help a disorganised person put some order in his or her life?
Let me reword that objection/question: can a Spiritual Life, i.e. a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus play a role in mending my life and getting back an ordered life, attentive to detail and conscientious at work? Of course yes, the Grace of God can help: we read about powerful conversions where a person who was leading a very bad life, came to discover the Lord and started by His Grace to change and become better, cleaner, more organised, committed in society and work.
Think of any big sinner (just for the sake of having a clear picture before us) who is struck by the Grace of God... led by it, arising from his mud, and starting to lead a good life. Think of the Prodigal son, who wasn't leading an orderly life, and still was struck by the Grace of God, came back to himself, thought of his error, changed direction, prayed, asked for forgiveness and started his way back home. It must be said that one can re-start this way.
But the question I was addressing during my talk and the audience hearing it were different. They were Christians, whom, at a certain point in past years, had started to lead a committed christian life, a good Spiritual Life, but with the business of life they had got to a lukewarm point.
Think of the third soil of the Parable of the Sower: we are talking here about “good” Christians, who to a certain extent are committed, but still, the business and concerns of life have become so strong as to be compared to the spikes or thorns capable of suffocating the Word of God in them... so that they have reached a lukewarm state in their spiritual life.
To their utter surprise, I brought them back to consider their work place and not to investigate their Spiritual Life! Maybe Spiritual Life meant an escape to them? Maybe Work was lived as a dichotomy?
Let us remember that God is very present during our work time and sees how we work... In conclusion therefore, the message here is: the way we deal with work directly affects our Spiritual Life.
Please don't hesitate to have a look at a closely related post: The Duties of my State (please click here).