Learning To Mourn Amid Work That Wounds
Religion & Liberty Online

Learning To Mourn Amid Work That Wounds

I recently wrote about “wounding work,” a term Lester DeKoster assigns to work that, while meaningful and fruitful, is “cross bearing, self-denying, and life-sacrificing” in deep and profound ways. Take the recent reflections of a former Methodist minister, who, upon shifting from ministry into blue-collar work at a factory, struggled to find meaning and purpose.

“I am not challenged at all in this work,” he writes, “and I want something more.”

Although DeKoster helps us recognize that meaning and purpose do reside in such work, and that our day-to-day labor is not exempt from the sacrifice and obedience bound up in the Christian life, the pain for those of us in the midst of all this is likely to persist, even if for a season.

On this, Evan Koons continues the discussion over at the FLOW blog: “To stress that all work is about gift-giving, to marvel at its vast community of relationships, or allude to the suffering one share’s with Christ by remaining in said environments, doesn’t make the experience any more pleasant.”

What, then, are we to do amid such suffering? How ought we to respond, whether as wounded workers ourselves, or as those who simply serve and disciple alongside those who suffer? As Koons explains, there is no quick-and-easy cookie-cutter “solution,” spiritually, economically, or otherwise, and going down the paths to peace that Christ does provide will inevitably involve those same familiar features of our fallen world.

Surely we can grab hold of the hope, redemption, and restoration found in Jesus, even as it invades and transforms our lives on this earth, and although we likewise ought to rejoice with trust and confidence in what we know to be the “not yet,” we can also begin by simply stopping to mourn in the here and now:

I think we need to recognize that when our work fails us (or we fail it), a tremendous loss has a occurred. In these times, there are no words that will suffice. There is no soothing balm. We must weep. As Paul writes (Romans 12:15), “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” …

…In today’s culture, in exile, we are so quick to diagnose a problem, cook up solutions, and give advice. Somehow, we’ve come to the conclusion that just being present in the discomfort and dis-ease, is not enough or it’s too uncomfortable or it’s some kind of stagnation—after all, time’s a-wastin’!

No, mourn the loss. Enter into the suffering. Know, and trust, that the tears are holy. They are the beginning of transformation. Like the rain, our tears are lifeblood of flourishing. We cannot forget. And growth will happen; comfort will come—who knows how or when, but it will happen. God will restore us. He will come, and slung over his shoulder will be more gifts of grace and joy than the world can bear.

As he concludes, pointing to Acton researcher and director of programs, Stephen Grabill, the church must rally alongside those who suffer, supporting, serving, and morning with those amid “wounding work,” and praying for restoration and transformation in turn:

As Stephen Grabill put it, “Our work is a form of whole-life discipleship. It is a stewardship responsibility. Which means, like all forms of stewardship, or discipleship, God is attempting to accomplish certain things over time.” He pointed me to the Stewardship Study Bible (which, of course, he and my other main man, Brett Elder, edited). One of the seven purposes of stewardship, they write, is Conformity. Our work—and the suffering that goes along with it—are slowly and mysteriously conforming us to refract better God’s image…Grabill told me, “that the mourning that comes from painful work (in all the senses of painful) is a means, that some of us get called to for a time, of imaging God in a cruciform sort of way.” He assured me, “This kind of pain isn’t the norm or in keeping with the basic design of work from the perspective of its purpose, but it is something all of us will experience living as we do ‘east of Eden.’”

So, if you are wandering through the desert-landscape that has become your work, if you are a confidant of someone else who is, enter into that barrenness and mourn. Look to the heavens and weep. Our tears are the spring that the cracked earth and our parched hearts need. Trust and live into the greatest truth of our creative service, “We are not alone, and we are never meant to be.”

Read Koons’ entire post.

Order For the Life of the World and Lester DeKoster’s Work: The Meaning of Your Life.

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Joseph Sunde

Joseph Sunde's work has appeared in venues such as the Foundation for Economic Education, First Things, The Christian Post, The Stream, Intellectual Takeout, Patheos, LifeSiteNews, The City, Charisma News, The Green Room, Juicy Ecumenism, Ethika Politika, Made to Flourish, and the Center for Faith and Work, as well as on PowerBlog. He resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with his wife and four children.