When our work feels insignificant

Feb 24, 2020 | Riana Loewen

“Do great things.” 

That’s the motto you’ll see plastered on t-shirts all over the University of Alberta. And if we’re honest, it’s a personal motto for most of us. 

When we become Christians, we often want to do great things for Jesus. But would Jesus himself tell us this was his ultimate goal for our lives? Should we find our purpose in making the biggest impact, even for the sake of the gospel? Or have we simply gotten the messaging of our culture mixed up with our spirituality?

Something I found compelling as a baby Christian was the possibility of doing something significant, something BIG. And as I grew in Christ, that translated into helping others do the same – bring more people to Christ, become more effective in your personal ministry, use more of your time to serve and maximize your opportunities to share the gospel! I found my identity not in Christ, but in mission, and for a long time I didn’t see any problem with that.

I found my identity not in Christ, but in mission, and for a long time I didn’t see any problem with that.

While it’s true that we are invited as part of our relationship with Christ to make him known in the world, this does NOT mean we are failing him every moment we spend not talking about Jesus.  

Of course we know this in our minds, but at the same time many of us feel guilty when we invest so much time in doing other things: schoolwork, feeding ourselves, listening to our aunt rave about her promotion, enjoying a worship event, sleeping… Okay I’m exaggerating, but clearly not every minute of our life CAN or SHOULD be used in effective work for Jesus’ purposes. Or not in the way we might expect. 

The mission and kingdom of God is still a passion of mine! Helping others see Jesus as relevant to their lives is incredibly valuable and enjoyable. But these things are not all that God values or calls me to. 

I thought I knew this, but since I became a mom last year, I have done some relearning. I’m learning that as my work dramatically shifts and evolves, God still calls my work significant – no matter how “small” the work. Why? Because God values me.

From student ministry to motherhood

It is hard enough to learn a new “motherhood job description” as you are trying to parent a baby for the first time, but I think moving from a really relational, fast-paced student ministry setting to an often isolated, at home kind of ministry, is especially shocking. Many suffer physical or mental health complications along with this transition, and my heart breaks for them. But I’ve experienced that, without any other issues, motherhood is still a hard adjustment.

I think moving from a really relational, fast-paced student ministry setting to an often isolated, at home kind of ministry, is especially shocking.

I didn’t realize how insecure I’d feel when trying to answer the question, “So what do you do?” 

Do I just say I’m a mom? Do I describe ministry? Do I give them a count of how many diapers I change in a day? As luck would have it, “what do you do?” is a rare question when you’re carting around a carseat. I’m relieved I don’t have to prove to others that not all jobs are rewarded with a paycheque, because I find it hard enough to convince myself that what I do matters – that it’s “real work.” 

I didn’t realize how lost I would feel trying to do something I’ve never done, and make like it is easy or like I love it all the time. It isn’t and I don’t. I found I had some resentment toward God that was hard to admit: this had not been my timing. My baby is beautiful, healthy, and often a joy, but I still feel like my freedom was taken from me. Selfish, but true.

I also have multiple issues with the workload. I can imagine having very legitimate grounds to complain to an employer if these issues occurred in another situation:

“As I do my job, for example cleaning up all of the books, someone is throwing the books already on the shelf onto the floor. My job is taking twice as long.”

“At the end of the day, I can’t give anyone a clear answer as to what was accomplished. We are all still alive, had a good play (evidence being that every toy we own is out), and I started cleaning a few things (can’t remember what, because each time I got distracted by something urgent within 5 minutes).”

“I can’t put any of what I’m doing now on my resume, and I don’t have a job title.”

“I am ALWAYS on call, and when I do get a break, I need to catch up on sleep. I don’t even get weekends off, and I can’t go out in the evenings. When I do get a chance to grab coffee with an old friend, someone is always trying to get my attention by yelling over my voice.”

Is the ministry of mothering worth it?

In case I’ve convinced you that you should seriously reconsider being in ministry, or having kids, please read on. I’ve found that in Jesus, there is hope and vision for all work, even when we don’t enjoy it or call it significant.

If your work situation isn’t ideal, or you feel like you can’t catch a break, you’re in good company. Because of sin, human work will sometimes be painful and frustrating. One of the first consequences we see for Adam’s sin in Genesis 3 is that thorns, thistles, and painful toil will frustrate his necessary work. Romans 8 echoes this as it describes the futility we and all creation experience as we wait with eager expectation – for what? Jesus secured the promise of our freedom from unsatisfying drudgery! Our frustrations in work remind us that this freedom is still coming. But even now, if we will join God in what he is doing, we can begin to see him making our work effective and even enjoyable.

I’ve experienced how my present, frustrated, mothering work can be worthwhile. 

When I aim to love the people in my life by the way I care for their needs, I am doing good work. 

When I practise patience as my baby throws half his meal (miniscule grains of rice) all over the floor, and when I persevere in addressing my family’s need to have clean clothes, I draw on Jesus’ character and am reminded how he loved me in this way. 

When I have to get the house clean for a group of friends we’re hosting, but do so with their enjoyment and comfort in mind, I model the invitation and generosity of God instead of indulging my need to impress. 

Sounds like I’m engaged in mission after all!

Our frustrations in work remind us that this freedom is still coming. But even now, if we will join God in what he is doing, we can begin to see him making our work effective and even enjoyable.

Working in the secret places 

But what about the times when no one notices, or I fail to accomplish what is on my to-do list, or I opt to nap or spend time watching YouTube instead of working? In that, too, I can be reminded of the God who is always at work (John 5:17) so I don’t have to be. And who cares for MY needs (Matthew 6:26-33) so I don’t have to worry. 

Jesus knows all about serving in obscurity, about human limitations, and a need to be refreshed. I don’t think he felt any worse about himself when he fell asleep in that boat when the storm hit, or when he had to take time to be with his Father. He was secure in his Father’s love, and he was clear on what was and wasn’t his role.

So as I remind myself of these things, I encourage you to work hard! But don’t expect your work to fill your need for significance or purpose. 

If we work with God, out of the ability he provides, and in demonstration of our love for him and for people, we will probably enjoy ourselves much of the time. But in those times when our work is hard, or boring, or seemingly worthless, remember the work God is still doing as he makes everything as it was meant to be. 

My prayer for myself and anyone reading this is that it drives you to hope, and to invite Jesus to transform your work into worship.

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About the Author

Riana Loewen

Riana has spent the last year learning how to parent a very sweet and energetic toddler. She first experienced the freedom of the gospel while in university, and has been serving in student ministry ever since.
Currently, she works part-time with P2C-Students at the University of Alberta with her husband Brett. She enjoys taking advantage of neighbourhood play groups and helping others see how God is at work in their lives.

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