December 2, 2015

Will Work For Free

Of course, working for free is not an option for most of us. I’ve worked for Christian congregations for years. Those that tended to come in and work for free at churches are retired folks. People with a stream of income but lots of time. They are called ‘volunteers.’ Not everyone can volunteer their time. Working for free is a privilege. You might say it’s a luxury.

But ask yourself, What would I do for free?

Chances are something comes to mind. There is something you are so passionate about that you would do it whether or not you were paid to do it. It’s your contribution to the world. It’s your art–and we all want to create something, make something that matters.

So, why aren’t you doing that one thing?

Here is why I pose this question: I work with young adults all day long. No matter the context (rural, suburban, urban), no matter their ethnic heritage or economic status the question of vocation always comes up. If you intend to work with young adults, you have to wrestle with questions of calling, vocation, careers ... work.

For most of us, the reason we aren't doing that one thing we would do for free has something to do with pausing long enough to consider this. We live in such a frantic and frenetic culture that we simply don’t stop to ponder what we have to offer. (And, quite honestly, young adults don't always know themselves well enough yet to know what they have to offer.)

Another thing that gets in the way is our sense that in order to authentically give something to the world for free we can’t get anything out of it. That is, for many of us, the definition of a gift. But what if this was not totally true? What if in giving something away for free we got something in return. What might that be? Maybe it can’t be commodified but there is something spiritual when we do the work we know we were meant to do.

In her book, Living Faith Day By Day, Debra Farrington asks a question that has continued to haunt me (in a good way): What nurtures your soul?

What I have found is that as we go about making lists of those things that nurture our souls, we often find that we attend to these things infrequently. Yet, if we want life to matter, if we want to do meaningful work. How can we expect that to happen if we don't do something as basic as care for our inner life?

I was reminded about Farrington's book wile reading Seth Godin's Linchpin. I think that they are getting at a similar point from different paths. Godin wants you to love your work, to approach it as if you are making something that matters. I agree and I think that when we approach work in such a way, we are doing work that feeds our souls as much as it provides the wage that feeds our bellies.

Parker Palmer weaves together these two approaches in his book Let Your Life Speak. He sees a clear connection between caring for the soul and making a difference in the world through how we work. He references the often quoted Frederich Buechner quote about finding "... the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet." What is it that you need to cut out, sacrifice, let go of, add in, make space for in order to get at what matters, to be who you are intended to be?

I didn't get paid to do what I love until I was well into my 30's. But I discovered my passion, that one thing I was meant to do by doing it for free for years before. Here's my hunch: if we can help young adults find that thing they were made to do, and create space for those things that nurture their soul, they will find their vocation, their calling.

That is a gift they are longing for faith communities to offer them.

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