I asked Rick Shurtz, Teaching Pastor here at Gateway, to write the next two blogs based on his new book Freebird: Work Free, Live Free. I read it this summer and it’s excellent! Very creatively written as a story of four friends who coax a member of their group into a dare that turns his view of work and life upside down. The wisdom of Solomon meets the writer of Friends. I highly recommend it. Here’s Rick with some wisdom on your work.
Freedom at work is a bit of an oxymoron. We don’t seek freedom at work. We seek freedom from work. We work to earn and save money, so we can one day be free. In the meantime, we get up, go to work, and do our thing.
Not long ago we surveyed our church and asked what they’d like us to teach on. The number one requested topic was work stress.
Not marriage. Not parenting. Not sex.
Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. Work is a universal reality. No matter your lot in life, you work. You may or may not get a paycheck for your work (the stay-at-home parent), but make no mistake about it, you work.
So what’s it take? If work is a reality, and freedom from work is a distant maybe, what’s it take to experience freedom today? How might we have freedom at work?
I have three observations that together have brought a great deal of liberation to me in my work.
The first is the above all else observation.
Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. Proverbs 4:23
Of the long list of things I can do in my life, at the very top of the list, above anything else, I am to guard my heart. Why? Because everything I do springs from my desires.
Which has a great many implications on work.
Let’s take one of my heart’s desires.
Like most anybody, I desire pleasure. This desire is why I eat ice cream, climb mountains, listen to music, and go to the beach. It’s also, believe it or not, one of the reasons why I work.
I work because I seek pleasure in it.
There are things I like about my job.
Not everything, but many things.
This is true of my job as a pastor, but it was also true when I was in sales for a start-up dot com. I liked calling on Fortune 500 companies. I liked pitching our services. I liked overcoming objections and beating out the competition. I especially liked closing deals. The entire sales cycle, when it worked, was gratifying. Believe it or not, that job satisfied the portion of my heart that craved pleasure.
I say sort-of because there were also aspects of the job that frustrated my heart’s desire for pleasure. There were days I dialed the phone 100+ times and had nothing to show for it. There were emails from dissatisfied clients. There was the time I wanted a promotion, and it was given to a colleague. I could go on and on, but I don’t need to. We’re all quite familiar with how work can frustrate our desire for pleasure.
Which leads to my second observation. It will sound downright wrong to some, and if misapplied, it is wrong. But hold it in proper light, and it’s both powerful and liberating.
Put simply, we must set realistic expectations—and at times even lower our expectations—on what work will and will not deliver.
We live in a unique period of human history. Unique, because in the grand scheme of time, it wasn’t long ago that work was just work. We farmed. We raised cattle. Maybe we pounded mettle into tools as the local blacksmith. The complexity of opportunities that seems so normal to us today, for the most part, has been a great gift. We can find work that suits our unique personalities and talents. But the complexity of opportunities has also raised expectations on work to unreasonable levels. Previous generations asked the “What kind of work will satisfy me?” question far less frequently. In our day, we obsess over it. Discovering our best fit in the best job is both good and essential, but wise is the person who recognizes the limitations.
These first two observations work together. Scripture exhorts us to guard our hearts. One of the ways we do this is by setting realistic expectations on what our work will and will not deliver.
Will we experience pleasure in our work?
Will our work fully satisfy us?
That might seem obvious—because it is obvious—but carry the thought with you when you work, and bring it out when you hit a patch of frustration. Frustrations flare when work doesn’t deliver what we hoped it would deliver. But what if we learned to quiet ourselves and remind ourselves that work is supposed to bring a degree of pleasure, but its never promised to be our everything? In that, I’ve found a great deal of freedom. No longer am I enslaved to idealism, wondering why I can’t get my work to be just right. I don’t know how that observation might help you, but for me, it’s empowered me to enjoy work for what it is rather than hate it for what it’s not.
My third observation builds on these first two. It addresses how our spiritual lives intersect with our work lives. It’s too much for one post, though. If you’re intrigued, Freedom @ Work, Part 2 is coming soon.
Rick Shurtz is a Teaching Pastor at Gateway Church. His recently published first book—Freebird: Work Free. Live Free.—addresses how our spiritual lives intersect with our work lives. For a copy of the opening chapter, click this link – Freebird – Chapter 1. To purchase it on Amazon, click here.