Depending on where one receives the news, there are conflicting reasons given as to why employers are having a hard time filling vacancies. I had a shuttle driver share with me his belief that there are too many people “taking a long vacation on Uncle Sam’s dime.”
Whether or not one agrees with this belief, the fact that this perception exists merits a reflection on the important role work plays in human life, especially for followers of Christ.
While acknowledging there are extenuating circumstances preventing people from working, such as the expense associated with child or elder care (among other reasons), all things being equal, if a person can work, then the person should work (of course, choosing to stay at home to take care of one’s children is “work” by any definition).
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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Work is not only necessary for financial viability, but it is a calling from God.
In St. John Paul II’s Laborem Exercens, the pope reminds us that man “is made to be in the visible universe an image and likeness of God himself (cf. Genesis 1:26), and he is placed in it in order to subdue the earth (cf. Genesis 1:28). From the beginning therefore he is called to work” (prologue).
This encyclical is an excellent reminder of the importance of work in distinguishing us from the rest of creatures, thereby highlighting the vocation and responsibility inherent in being human: “…the primary basis of the value of work is man himself” (6). The dignity in work stems from the dignity of the human person, made in the image of God (cf. Genesis 1:27).
Additionally, work is a means for humans to fulfill their purpose and to contribute to society:
Work is a good thing for man—a good thing for his humanity—because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfillment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes “more a human being.” (9)
The Holy Father goes on to state that industriousness is a virtue that enables man to become good (ibid).
Unemployment, therefore, is harmful to humans not only financially, but in impeding their attainment of purpose and fulfillment. Additionally, unemployment stifles the virtue of industriousness that is vital for human flourishing.
As a child, my family experienced the hardship of unemployment on multiple occasions, resulting in us changing states twice and moving six times before I was 14. The anxiety of economic uncertainty, along with the interruption in family life and my father’s ability to provide, are still dark memories that I carry. These experiences influence my own struggles of identity and self-fulfillment in the workplace, both due to the fear of losing employment and the actual instances of being laid off.
Over the past 16 months, COVID-19 restrictions resulted in furloughs and employee severances, and small business owners lost meaningful income. Economic hardship enacts a heavy toll. Far worse than financial loss is the diminishment in morale, which leads to discouragement—the antithesis of the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love.
The encyclical acknowledges the “scourge of unemployment” (8), which the pope names as an injustice toward the worker that frustrates the worker’s progress, as well as the need for there to be suitable employment for those who are capable (18). Moreover, the Holy Father states that work “is a condition for making it possible to found a family” (10), and therefore unemployment is deeply harmful not only to the worker but to the family—which is consistent with my negative memories that I referenced earlier.
Given the significance of work in human life and the harmful effects of unemployment, I turn a critical eye toward those who can work but choose not to even look for work:
- Choosing not to work is an insult to those who are desperately looking for work
- Choosing not to work is a rejection of societal participation in exchange for selfish ends
- Choosing not to work is self-harm, frustrating one’s own development, disrupting one’s purpose, and losing sight of one’s own dignity
- Choosing not to work is a rejection of God’s call to work and to share in the activity of the Creator (25).
I can appreciate the dilemma of underemployment. One day I was managing a $400 million portfolio of investments, and the next day I was waiting tables at a restaurant that I often used for business lunches. I also took months searching for the right employment rather than settling for the first job offer.
But choosing the couch over the struggle of job searching and interviewing is downright slothful and self-centered.
In fact, the self-harm in choosing not to work is far greater than the harm resulting from unemployment. The former, symptomatic of being blinded by selfishness and incognizant of the virtuous life, directly opposes God and His call to work. Rejecting the will of the Father, the Giver of the finest gifts (cf. Matthew 7:11), leads one to waste away tending to swine and desiring the fill of their pods (cf. Luke 15:15-16).
Therefore, as followers of Christ, we need to reject the sin of choosing not to work and fight against this tendency in our society. Our work is both a witness to our faith and a participation in God’s activity.
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