I’m going to work. I’m going to church.
Both of these statements take our humanness and turn it into a place.
Church is not a place and neither is work. We can easily see the error in this thinking about the church by simply looking at scripture. The church is human beings communing with Christ and overflowing with His presence into the world. We are the church. This realization helps us see more easily the Kingdom of God everywhere. It helps us disabuse ourselves of the notion that church is somewhere we go or something only paid pastors do.
But work is a different animal, isn’t it?
Work has to be a place, right? Work has to be something we do, right?
Work, though commonly thought of as a place or as something we do, can hold life-transforming potential if we can learn to embrace it as something we are.
First of all, let’s say right from the start that work has meaning to us because God says it does. Work doesn’t have meaning because we do it, it has meaning because God has given it meaning. Work existed from the very beginning (Genesis 2:15) and is part of humanity’s original vocation.
Work has meaning because we – the workers – have meaning.
Most of us try to derive meaning from our work, however, once you locate work primarily to some external place (either a location or an action), it becomes controlling, addicting and all-powerful. It becomes something we want, instead of something we already have. It becomes something we do, instead of being something we are. It becomes someplace to go, instead of being right where we are in the moment.
Locating work extrinsically makes it something that then gets to define us.
It becomes something we avoid, fearful of its power to define us negatively, or something we pursue, coveting its power to define us positively.
Work can easily become something we avoid through procrastination or covet through workaholism. These ugly twins, procrastiholism, if you will, are then free under the ruler of this world’s dominion to exert a powerful influence in our lives.
So, how do we defeat procrastiholism in our lives? It isn’t easy.
The part of us that sees what we do as separate from who we are must die. As in other areas of our lives where we’ve gone through the painful process of identity formation, a soul-stripping process of death must ensue to find the resultant freedom.
Defeating procrastination also involves defeating workaholism and vice versa. Growth and maturation are almost always both/and propositions.
In order to defeat procrastination, one must be free to work, yes; but even more importantly, must be free to rest. In order to defeat workaholism, one must be free to rest, yes; but even more importantly, must be free to work.
Freedom can only come through death, death to finding ourselves in what we do and death to finding ourselves in what we don’t do.
And we almost always rebel against death, don’t we?
We rebel against being nothing (workaholism) and we rebel against being something only due to our performance (procrastination).
Workaholism is really an unconscious rebellion against having to reveal our existence, which we see as flawed or not existing at all. So we rebel against the idea of an unearned existence not so much because we feel we have to earn it through performance, but because we’ve moved so far away from the pain of our existence we absolutely must build a performance-based version of ourselves just to feel alive lest through our failure we find ourselves transported back to the pain or emptiness we left behind. If we stop performing long enough, we feel failure will usher us to the pain or emptiness deep within. We workaholics believe the lie that we are righteously earning our worth through performance when what we are really doing is trying to build a life apart from pain.
Procrastination is really an unconscious rebellion against having to reveal our existence, which we see as flawed or not existing at all. So we rebel against the idea of an unearned existence not so much because we feel we shouldn’t have to earn it through performance, but because we’ve moved so far away from the pain of our existence in order to feel alive we absolutely must not build a performance-based version of ourselves lest through our failure we find ourselves transported back to the pain or emptiness we left behind. We procrastinators believe the lie that we are righteously resisting earning our worth through performance when what we are really doing is trying to build a life apart from pain.
We are afraid of not performing and being found empty and we are afraid of performing and being found empty.
Usually, workaholism and procrastination go hand in hand.
The workaholic doesn’t see how much time she wastes filling her life with meaningless trifles and inconsequential work – all that matters is that life is chock full of literally anything. Busyness is a badge of honor.
The procrastinator doesn’t see how much work he really is getting done, usually in uber-compressed frantic sessions, often even more work than workaholics — all that matters is that he has a legitimate cover for failure. (I didn’t have time, I did this last minute, I didn’t have enough information to get started, etc.) Worry is a badge of honor.
The crazy thing is, I’m both. And every workaholic I’ve met procrastinates and every procrastinator I’ve met frantically works.
Both are distancing themselves from their true life in Christ as a working image-bearer.
Joyfully, God located work in our creation, in our dirt-bodies, in the essence of who we are. There’s nothing to prove. There’s no place to go to work. Work is embedded in the paradoxical empty fullness of our existence. It’s part of who we are. We are work itself. We can’t help but be. We aren’t what we do, but we do.
The creation story starts in a garden and ends in a city. We are the ones who are the builders, in union with God, of that transformation project.
The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. Genesis 2:15
It seems there were no training programs that Adam and Eve had to first go through, there were no employee orientations, no finding of talents or strengths or gifts. Adam and Eve did not have to take a personality test to find out how they could best contribute to the care of the garden.
God made everything. And He made Adam and Even, made work, and located work in Adam and Eve.
A blog post is too short to prescribe exactly what the process of moving from procrastaholism to image-bearing workers will look like for you.
How will you find freedom first by returning to the garden and finding who you are and then building this new city with Him?
How will you become completely emptied of any desire, possession, relationship, or view of work that blocks your march to being fully human in union with Him?
How does recognizing there is a core to you in union with God made before time that is indestructible and irreducible help as you ponder your work?
The long process to death and detachment is different for everyone. I can promise you that the journey to be free from procrastination and workaholism is to first finally understand you are already there. You never left. The you that is lacking nothing in Him (Acts 17:38) is still there standing next to Jesus alongside whatever pain or fears made you leave in the first place.
You’ve merely been attempting to build your own city and that’s ok. You were made to build a new Holy city with God.
I believe the work we do here and now contributes to the construction project that will be revealed when we all see Revelation 21:2 come alive before our very eyes.
The good news is that work is such a harsh pursuit for most of us, requiring all that we are in exchange for layoffs, burnout, fatigue, empty monetary rewards, pseudo-recognition, and more. This is good news because work has the potential to deeply shape us if we let it do its stripping work!
Enduring fleeting reward after fleeting reward can help us to learn to surrender, trust and find joy in serving others.
In the end, God wants all that we are as much as He wants all that we do. Work is one of those things we are and God wants that too.