A robust theology of creation has a bearing on our view of work, I think. Work is not in and of itself the result of the fall. I won’t get into the details of such a theology, but simply say that it results in an understanding of most work as good and profitable and in keeping with our design as human beings.
But conceptually, what does this work look like? Does it simply mean “work hard and do your work well”? What does “well” mean? I’m sitting here huddled in a study room in the library. I should be finishing an assignment–one of three technically due by next Tuesday–and I’m caught in a tension I’ve created for myself. It’s between wanting to do something well and recognizing that I cannot do it all.
Before I came to seminary, I was told by someone in our denomination not to worry about marks so much. That’s difficult for me. I feel like the grade I receive on a paper reflects whether or not I did the paper well and right.
I’ve also been told on a number of occasions by one professor at least that I should not read my books word-for-word. That’s also difficult for me. If I’m going to read something, it seems to me that I should read it all. But that can get me into trouble. Sometimes the reading never ends, but my time does.
There are some maxims that float around the seminary. “Sometimes finishing well means simply finishing” (or something like that). In terms of work (including study) as an act of worship and as a part of an integrated life that includes other things like family and physical needs, “Sometimes getting an A on an assignment means getting a B from the Lord.” They might sound like trite platitudes, but they are true in many respects. Because doing something well is something much more holistic than simply getting a good grade or creating the best product or learning the most stuff. Life isn’t a compartmentalized thing, made up of individual units that can be measured in isolation from the others. My family life factors in to doing school well. So does my spiritual life. I may get A’s (As?) in my classes, but I’m not always (ever?) getting A’s in terms of a well-integrated life.
What this means is that sometimes simply getting things done is more important than doing that thing as well as possible. At least, “as well as possible” can only be measured truthfully in relation to every other aspect of my life. To measure my best for something in isolation from the other aspects of life is to create impossible expectations for myself, because my best in this sense–that is, any one thing in isolation–will always crowd out everything else.
And that, friends, is not how we live well.