Don’t Worry, Be Thankful: The Dark Side of the High Calling

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Do you know about the dark side of The High Calling? No, Darth Vader isn’t one of our editors, nor any of the other Star Wars bad guys.

But there is a dark side to every good thing when we twist it and wrench it into an idol.

The High Calling has a simple mission to encourage people that their work matters. Sometimes we say it like this: God cares about your work. And he does. He created us to work from the beginning. Adam and Eve worked in the Garden of Eden before sin entered the world, and this means our work is not a curse. Being human includes working in the world: moving dirt around, planting seeds, shuffling papers, answering emails, grading tests, seeing patients, defending plaintiffs, marketing products, raising children, and all the things all of us do every day.

Sometimes, though, we want work more than we want anything else. Sometimes, we find so much purpose and meaning in our work that we get confused. We think work is our only purpose. We take something good and twist it into an idol.

There have been times in my life, like last week, when I am on the edge of falling into this confusion. I begin to find my sense of value and worth in my ability to work well. I start to think more highly of myself and my work than I should. My work is such a high calling, I think to myself, that it is a higher calling than that guy’s work over there, the one who is just doodling during the meetings, and that gal who is obviously reading something on her phone instead of paying attention.

I really think like this sometimes. And I suspect other people do too.

This arrogance leads to dissatisfaction with myself and with others. Pretty soon, I’m complaining about someone who didn’t finish a project on schedule or someone else who is isn’t working as hard as I think I am working. Pretty soon, I’m judging others in the worst kind of way.

But there is a simple solution: gratitude and thankfulness.

David Rupert shared about this earlier in the week when he dared to thank God for his crummy job. Rather than focus on negativity, he emphasizes the positive. It can all sound a little too Pollyanna-ish, at times, but that doesn’t make it less true or less effective.

I am thankful for my job, and it’s not even a crummy job. I am thankful for my boss who is not a crummy boss at all. I am thankful for my coworkers and editors and writers and readers. I am thankful for my family and my children and my community. I am thankful for theater and poetry, for turkey dinners and apple pie, for dogs, for poems, for zombies (it’s true!), for coffee, for technology, for rivers and canyons.

Psalm 95 comes to mind. I think of it as the Psalm of Thanksgiving.

Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD;
let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before him with thanksgiving
and extol him with music and song.

The Psalm is not all straightforward happy praise and thanks, though. It’s true that the first seven verses read like a big sunny group hug between God and Israel.

Then it turns.

God steps in with a warning. “Do not harden your hearts,” he says, like the Israelites in the wilderness. Their hearts went astray, and God became angry with them for complaining and swore they would never enter his rest.

That’s the dark side: a place of no rest. When we harden our hearts and fall into a spirit of complaint about our work and our family and our life, we cannot enter into God’s rest.

But when we approach the high calling of our work with gratitude and thanksgiving, we understand that God in our work is the meaning and purpose, and the rest of God becomes ours in abundance.


Don’t Worry, Be Thankful

In Philippians 4, Paul invites people to rejoice in the Lord always. Always? Even when Christians are being persecuted by Rome? Even when Paul himself is in prison? Always? Even when someone I love is dying? Even when I have lost my job? “Do not worry about anything,” Paul continues. Instead, we are called to present our worries to God with thanksgiving. Many of our readers in the United States are celebrating Thanksgiving this week, with a turkey dinner and pumpkin pie. We invite you to reflect on gratitude and thankfulness and consider sharing some thoughts with your family this week from our theme Don’t Worry, Be Thankful.