Thursday, October 27, 2011

fac et aliquid operis, ut semper te diabolus inveniat occupatum*

Luk 5:5  Simon answered, "Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets."

Western civilization has been built on the idea that hard work will produce success, wealth and positive results. Deep in its cultural bones are injunctions to succeed by  working hard – “the devil finds work for idle hands” / “Don't just stand there, do something” / “hard work never killed anyone”. I was raised on quotes on the Bible that bolstered this idea: “Go to the ant, you lazybones; consider its ways” (Prov 6:6), “Hard work always pays off” (Prov 14:23). I have often worked hard, and more often I have worked very hard. But as the years have passed I have discovered the fallacy in the idea that hard work equates to success, because there are some people who work extremely hard without any success at all. Certainly this was the case of the disciples of Jesus in Luke 5:5 – they had fished all night without success.

This is also the case with many, many people who are trapped in the cycles of poverty, illiteracy and illness that characterize our modern society. Many people work hard all day for a pittance of a wage. They are not lazy, or stupid, or unfaithful to God. They are simply victims of their birth: born in the wrong place, in the wrong social class, of the wrong gender, or in the wrong culture. They do not have access to education, or to opportunity, or to the social conditions that enable their work hard to allow them an escape from their struggle for life.

I have come to see that hard work is not the panacea for all of life’s ills. Instead I have learned that the key to successful living is finding the person we were created to be. Luke 5:5 has the disciples moving beyond hard work, to obedience to the call of the Master: “If you say so, I will”. This is about an inner calling rather than our material successes; this is about our self-knowledge rather than our achievements and status; this is about our sense of God’s purpose for our living rather than a desperate striving to achieve goals and acquire more possessions.  Kipling, in his poem “If” captures this for me:

“…..If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same … you will be a Man my son.”

* [St. Jerome Letters cxxv. xi.] “do something, so that the devil may always find you busy”; cf. [c 1386 Chaucer Tale of Melibee l. 1594] Therfore seith Seint Jerome: 'Dooth somme goode dedes that the devel, which is oure enemy, ne fynde yow nat unocupied.'


Londiwe Xulu said...

Thank you Pete. Your blog is so inspiring.

Anonymous said...

One of my favorite quotes! I agree with you - if you truly strive to be who God wants you to be or do the work he planned for you, he'll provide what you need. And that's enough. (the tough part is remembering this and not worrying!)