Why do you do what you do?

By Vinal Van Benthem | March 5, 2015

It’s easy to forget what is important when your work becomes your god

“You shall not have other gods besides me.” The story is told of a wealthy tourist who came upon a fisherman sitting in the sun, leaning lazily on his boat. “Why don’t you go out and fish?” the tourist inquired. “I have all the fish I need,”said the fisherman. “But if you catch more fish you can make more money.” “Why would I do that?” the fisherman asked. “So that you can buy more boats.” “Why?” “So that you can catch more fish, make more money, buy more boats and hire more workers.” “Why?” “So that you can take it easy and do whatever you want?” “But I am doing that now,” the fisherman replied, wondering how the tourist could possibly be so stupid.

The fisherman used the boat to meet his needs. He owned the boat rather than letting the boat own him. The tourist, on the other hand, was obsessed with the idea of making money. Money, and whatever it took to make more of it, owned him.

Three young professionals started their own firm. They worked 10 to 12 hours a day, seven days a week, preparing proposals and responding to requests from potential clients. After several months of this they decided to make a new rule. Each would take one weekend plus one additional day off each month. There would be no client calls, no stopping by the office “just in case,” no checking emails. Why? Because they realized that the work had begun to own them; now they would own the work.

It’s easy to forget why we do the work that we do. It’s easy to forget family and friends – even our own health – when we allow our work to become our god. In John’s Gospel, we are given a rare glimpse of Jesus’ anger. The money changers were supposed to be assisting the people. Instead, they were using the people to make a profit. Money had become their god.

“You shall not have other gods besides me.” Why do I do the work that I do? Do I own my job, or does my job own me?

Van Benthem is a member of the Secular Franciscan Order and a longtime pastoral minister, retreat leader, spiritual director and published writer and poet.

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