Does what I do matter?

Have you ever had a job where you had to stop and ask yourself: what am I doing here? If I quit tomorrow, would anyone even notice?

The other day I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Hidden Brain, and they were exploring that very same topic with an anthropologist about the rise of what he called “B.S.” jobs.

A “B.S.” job as we’ll call it, is basically any job where you find yourself doing something that feels completely meaningless, pointless, or unneeded.

In a poll mentioned on the podcast, a shocking 37-40% of people feel if their job didn’t exist, it wouldn’t matter.

I’d bet, when most of us think of BS jobs, we think of something like a Wal-Mart greeter, the receipt checker at Costco, or a bathroom attendant; something like that.

Surprisingly, amongst the respondents, few service or retail workers felt their jobs were pointless, rather it was many corporate office workers who felt their jobs were pointless.

Many of these office workers found themselves in blurred reality where it seems everyone knows their job is total B.S., but wondering how much they have to pretend to work, how much they can just kick back, and whether they can dare to utter the obvious: their job is pointless.

There were four basic “meaningless” jobs cited;

Duct-tapers (literally), Task-masters (middle-management), Goons (telemarketers), Flunky (footman/posse)(make someone else look good).

Perhaps you’ve found yourself in one of these kinds of jobs.

As for me, I’ve had a “duct-taper” job (deckstore) and a “goon” job (phonebank).

The anthropologist had a similar experience when he worked as a dishwasher in the for a restaurant as a teenager. When the big dinner rush came, they took it on as a challenge to clean all the dishes as soon as possible. But, when the boss came back and saw just sitting around next to a huge stack of dishes they had already done, he wasn’t pleased.

Despite their efficiency and skill in doing their job—they were instead belittled. So, they learned there’s basically no point in working fast. Being too efficient will get you extra work, so just take it easy and “milk the clock.”

In theory, this is easy. “Milk the clock,” get paid. Easy. In reality, it’s much harder.

Humans have something researchers call “Pleasure at being a cause.” Knowing that we can do things is fun. When studying infants, a researcher noticed that infants recognized their distinct identity when they see that they can have predictable effects on the world. Like, moving their arm will move a pencil. The moment they realize that, a feeling of happiness comes over the child.

Our sense of self is tied up with the joyous realization that we can have effects on the world.

When children can’t influence their world, their well-being decreases, and they go from being happy to confused and upset.

If we’re blocked from having any meaningful effect on the world around us, we get depressed, lose motivation.

I’ve struggled the most with my mental health when I’ve been in jobs that were pointless or I felt powerless.

Many of us I’d bet, at some point in our lives, have had a pointless job. Whether it was a “duct-taper,” a “task-master,” “flunky or goon” we can understand the mental and emotional anguish of having such a pointless job.

The dread we feel each night as we get ready for bed, knowing the next day we have to go to a job we loath. The drudgery of getting up and going in the mornings, rushing to be on-time to a job that’s a waste of our time. The soul-crushing experience of seeing days, weeks, months, perhaps years of our lives slip away with absolutely nothing of worth to show for it. It can be a bit demoralizing, to say the least.

As painful, as demoralizing, as soul crushing we all know these jobs to be—I guess at the least—we could say, at the end of the day, we’re getting paid.

Can you imagine how much worse things would be if, rather than for a paying job, you were actually the victim of abuse and mistreatment, and were trying to plead your case in front of a cold, heartless judge?

And, if you can’t, you should watch the show Unbelievable on Netflix, that highlights a young woman who was sexually assaulted fruitlessly plead her case to cold, uncaring detectives.

Just watching this young woman’s struggle portrayed on television is painful to see. I can hardly imagine the emotional, psychological, even physical turmoil someone like that goes through—trying to convince others in authority of your basic need for safety and protection—and them not seeming to care at all. It would be, in a world, soul-crushing.

I mean, how does one keep going, keep living, keep advocating for oneself when those whose very job it is to protect you, to look out for you, to take care of you—don’t seem to care?

While thankfully many of us haven’t had to come face to face with such callous injustice, we do, often in ways big and small, find ourselves making what feels like repeated, fruitless attempts to bring health, happiness, and success to ourselves, our families, our communities.

Maybe, it’s just the demoralizing feeling of going into work everyday to a job that doesn’t meet pay enough for you to provide a decent standard of living for you or your family.

Maybe, as a female, it was working twice as hard, yet seeing your male colleagues get promoted ahead of you or get paid more than you.

Maybe, it was working and organizing for a worthwhile cause in your community, only to see big money and power come in and squash the whole thing.

How do we keep going, keep living, keep advocating when our work, our effort, our energy seems pointless, ineffective, futile?

This is the last week of our series “Jesus for President,” in which we’ve been looking at how we can live faithfully as a follower of Jesus beyond the walls of the church.

We’ve talked about working for justice in our communities, even when life seems complicated. Today, we’re talking about how we can keep doing these things, even when the odds seem stacked against us and all seems lost.

This week again, like last, we’re looking at another parable Jesus told in Luke 18.

Again, a parable was a simple story with a deeper meaning used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson. For instance, a modern day example of a parable might be the story of “the ant and the grasshopper” or “the boy who cried wolf.”

Just like these stories, so to in the parables of Jesus, there’s more to the story than what just appears on the surface.

In this parable here, Jesus is telling the story of a widow going up against a curmudgeonly judge. Let’s read the story.

Luke 18:1-8 (NRSV)

So, a couple things we should take note of in this story.

First, that the widow was having to plead her case to the judge was a problem in and of itself that both the original hearers and readers of this story would have recognized.

The Bible is full of calls to care for the vulnerable in society, which in ancient Jewish society, was widows and orphans, those without the support of a husband or father in that patriarchal society. So, the fact that this widow was even having to plead her case to a judge was the first problem.

But, if that wasn’t bad enough, the judge she was presenting to was described as a person who “neither feared God nor had respect for people.” Not exactly the kind of person you want to be deciding your future when you’re in a vulnerable position, as was this widow.

And, as the story goes, it wasn’t that he suddenly had a change of heart or had a moment of empathy. No, quite the opposite in fact.

He says to himself, “I have no fear of God or respect for anyone, but this widow keeps bothering me, so I’ll grant her justice, so she won’t wear me out by continually coming.”

Not exactly the storybook ending we would like to see, but justice was done.

Something else worth noting here is the phrase the judge utters, “so she won’t wear me out by continually coming.”

Though it’s easy to forget at times, the Bible was written long ago in another language, ancient Greek. And, in the original language, that phrasing could have a few different meanings.

The judge might have been saying, I’ll grant her justice so she won’t expose me in public.

Or, more literally, I’ll grant her justice so she won’t slap me in the face!

Whether the judge was worried about being pestered, exposed, or slapped exactly, it seems that the judge was worried about being embarrassed, so he finally relented and did the right thing.

If anyone would have an excuse to give up, to throw in the towel, to just walk away—it would have been her. But, she didn’t.

And more, Jesus highlights her persistence, her relentlessness, her refusal to quit not just as a nice character trait or feel good story—no, Jesus highlights her actions as an act of great faith.

Verse 1 tells us, “Jesus told them a parable about the need to pray always and not to lose heart.”

And then, at the end of verse 8 the question is asked, “will he (Jesus) find this kind of faith on earth?”

We often think of having great faith as being exuberant, confident, assured of ourselves and the future—but here—faith is far more simplistic; it’s not losing heart, it’s keeping on keeping on.

And, that same message that Jesus wanted his disciples to hear, the same message Luke wanted his readers to understand, is a message we too today need to hear.

Don’t lose heart, keep working, keep going.

No matter the score, no matter the obstacles, no matter the odds, the persistent widow shows us that we’ve got to keep trying, keep working, keep fighting because our small and seemingly insignificant acts can make a big difference. But, we don’t know how long it will take, so we’ve got to keep on keeping on, keep showing up, keep praying, keep working.

Consider this.

A small, fragile, seemingly insignificant plant can do amazing things. A sycamore root will buckle a sidewalk, a mushroom will shatter a cement basement floor, the root of a tree can over time, split even the hardest rock.

Think about that for a moment.

Compared side-by-side, a plant is no match for cement.

But with time and persistence—the cement stands no chance.

I’m reminded of the #Metoo movement.

First started by activist Tarana Burke in 2006 as a way to raise awareness about sexual harassment, abuse, and assault in society, her work seemed to make little headway, but then in 2017, over ten years later, her phrase #Metoo, went viral, empowering millions of women to tell their stories of harassment, abuse, and assault, with countless abusers finally having to face a reckoning for their misdeeds.

Against the entrenched strength of abusers in seemingly unbreakable positions of power, like a persistent plant, Tarana Burke and her #Metoo movement slowly but surely pushed into that hard rock, in time breaking it into pieces. It’s a powerful lesson for us to remember.

As demoralizing as life can be, as pointless as our actions can seem, as meaningless as what we do might feel—it matters, you matter, and each and every single day you get up and go into a job you hate to provide for your family, each time challenge those doing wrong, and each time you fight for justice—you are acting in great, great faith.

And more, not only are you acting in great faith—you are helping bring God’s ways to earth.

See, this is the thing worth paying attention to. Jesus told this parable when talking about the ways of God. Jesus talked about the ways of God as a sharp contrast to the ways of the powerful.

Where the Powerful cheated, mistreated, and exploited.

God is about including, sharing, and uplifting.

But, here’s the thing—Jesus’s point that the responsibility to bring about God’s ways, God’s ways of doing things, is just as much on us as it is on God. We’ve got to do our part—God can’t do it all for us.

The cool thing though, it that God’s ways don’t come through power, through dominance, through violence.

God’s ways come through small, persistent acts of faith—us taking care of our family, us caring for our neighbor, us seeking fairness and justice for all people.

This is God’s ways—this is great faith.

So, keep at it, keep working, you’re a person of great faith.

No matter how pointless, how meaningless, how trivial what you do seems—it’s an act of great faith, and in the long-run, you’re actually doing something great.

Galatians 6:9 (KJV)

And let us not be weary in well-doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.

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