WorkforcThese are alarming numbers: In its recent State of the Global Workplace 2022 report, Gallup concluded that only 21% of workers are engaged and invested in their work. Over 70% of the nation’s employees are looking for new jobs. Most members of the workforce resent their job and are disengaged, bitter, miserable, unproductive, and doing more harm than good when they come to work. Hate your job—hate your life.
Many people who are exasperated with their careers end up sick, depressed, divorced, abusing substances, gaining weight, and questioning their worthiness. This is because one’s personal identity and happiness are often wrapped up in “what they do.” Americans have allowed their jobs to define their self-worth and identity. Many workers despise Monday mornings and live for “over the hump” day to arrive each week. We will spend more than 1/3 of our days working, which leaves most Americans feeling empty and unfulfilled.
“Take this job and love it” is not the mantra of workers in America. Most workers are fed up with the drudgery and mental exhaustion of earning a living.
So, what is the response to this tragic employment situation? Answer: medicate oneself by seeking personal pleasure during the evenings and weekends. This is done through numerous distractors, including entertainment, hobbies, sports, and drugs and alcohol. But the tranquilizer of choice is usually materialism—buying stuff. This perspective is summed up by the bumper sticker “the person with the most toys wins.”
What’s missing in finding meaning and purpose through work?
Solomon, author of Ecclesiastes, says that work brings pain and grief and that even at night his mind doesn’t rest. He then asks this question: “What does man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun?” Solomon tried to medicate. We are told that he denied himself nothing his eyes desired—and refused his heart no pleasure. He built houses, planted vineyards, acquired a harem, amassed silver and gold, hired musicians to entertain him, and was gifted the delicacies of the world. His entire plan was to engage in self-pleasure until he could fill the void left by unsatisfying work.
Sound familiar? Based on earthly wisdom and total unabashed self-indulgence, Solomon was in pursuit of happiness, joy, and identity in created things, the things of this world—things he could see and touch. What did Solomon conclude? Not one of all these things he had pursued brought about that desired result. They, in and of themselves, left him empty. Reexamining his own personal experience, he makes an argument that human existence is indeed meaningless, and happiness will elude us, if one attempts to base one’s life on their own self-conceived identity and earthly work.
He concludes that the problem is man’s attempt to find meaning in the creation without knowing the Creator. Without Him nothing satisfies. All earthly things are short-lived, transitory, and fleeting. Anything in life, no matter what, cannot give meaning, purpose, identity, and joy apart from having a proper relationship with God. Solomon has taught us that true and lasting happiness comes from the hand of God.
Labor, apart from God, is futile.
Solomon, looking back on his life, lands on the answer to true soul-satisfying happiness and joy. Ecclesiastes 2:24 literally says, “there is not a good in man that he should be able to eat, drink and get satisfaction from his work.” Only through the eyes of the Lord can we understand who we are and how to view, value, and enjoy what He has made. Solomon rhetorically asks the question: without Him who can find enjoyment?
If you try to find happiness and joy exclusively in what God has made, without knowing Him personally, you will never be fulfilled.
If God is taken out of life’s equation, true happiness and meaning will elude you.
Fred, the retired college painter, knew that the cancer within him was about to take his life. As we sat together at a basketball game, like Solomon, he reflected back on his life and work at the college. What brought meaning and purpose to his life? He used his paint and brush to faithfully glorify and serve his Lord and point people to Christ. Yes, he did exactly that.
What will your reflections be?