When I Realized Working Hard Isn’t Everything

Written By Debra Ayis, Nigeria

A colleague of mine recently retired after working for the same organization for 35 years. He was one of those who worked 24/7 and gave his heart and soul to the job at hand.

Often, we meet people who can’t seem to care less about the job—but he wasn’t one of those. He was passionate, competitive, always on top of things, and involved in everything happening in the office.

We threw him a farewell party and gave him a gift and a card. By the next day, a new officer had taken over his position and his email was removed from the staff mailing list.

To be honest, I was on track to become one such worker not too long ago. I gave everything to my job, dreamed about my job at night, and talked about nothing but my job. I was so fixated on my job that I stopped wishing or aiming for a life outside of it.

I stopped engaging with friends because I was always working or replying to emails. I couldn’t keep a relationship going because I was always the last person in the office to leave for home or always on my phone, anxiously waiting for that message I had to respond to. I got upset if I was told that other things mattered in life and that I had to learn to live a little.

Lessons Spoken From Retirement

Then one day, I fell ill and had to be off work for a while. Only one colleague sent me a text message to ask me how I was doing. I had no one to talk to, no one to help me, and because I had practically ignored God, I felt I couldn’t go to Him either. I realized there and then that there was more to life, and that I had not been created to work in pursuit of material gain; I was created to fellowship (1 Corinthians 1:9) and glorify God (Isaiah 43:7).

After that revelation, I arranged a meet up with my retired friend. He shared that he had no idea what to do after retirement. He was divorced because of the job, and had long given up all his hobbies in favor of work and ambition. All his life, he had been chasing after deadlines and promotions, and had often felt that everything at work would fall apart if he was not there to hold it all together.

But at the point of his retirement, he realized that all his labor amounted to nothing. He was easily replaced at his former job. In pursuit of his career, he had lost focus of everything else. He lost his friends, his family, and the ability to “function” outside of the office.

He shared that his mistake was fixing his eyes on the present and immediate future. Because he was so fixated on achieving excellence at work, he had failed to look beyond the present, and to realize that there would be a day he had to leave that job.

It was only on hindsight that he realized investing in family, community, and faith was more important than his title. Making an impact on the lives of others around him, knowing his neighbors, serving God, reaching out to those who were lost, would have been far greater achievements than a paycheck at the end of the month.

I was deeply impacted by his sharing and it motivated me to reflect on my own life. Reading through Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, I learned that for everything, there is a right time (Eccl. 3); work cannot take up my entire life. And unless God blesses the work, it will simply be futile and frustrating no matter how hard I labor (Psalm 127). From personal experience, I’ve also realized that just as God gave me the job, He is more than capable of taking it away or giving me another one in its place.

A Refreshing New Approach

That’s not saying that we don’t need to work hard—the Bible does call us to work diligently (Proverbs 6:6-11)—but my goal must be to exalt God above all else. In all my endeavors, I pray that He gives me the grace to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness”, and to trust that all the things I need will be given to me as well (Matthew 6:33).

My security lies not in where I am and what I do, but whom I am with. Life is not about knowing all the pit stops or even the destination; it is about trusting in the One who has our life in the palm of His hands. When we truly learn to trust God and let Him have His way in our lives, we will stop fixating on the little things, and on the here and now. Instead, we will learn to look at the bigger picture and realize our lives are not our own—but God’s. We need to live it according to His way.

These days, I choose to ask God to use me for His glory, to let me be His hands and feet (1 Corinthians 12:12-31) in whichever way that pleases Him. I try to look at the big picture and not focus on what my flesh or the world tell me is important.

This has meant setting a particular time to leave work every day—as far as possible, I try not to stay in the office past 7pm. There are occasions that I do need to stay late, but I make sure it’s never the norm. I’ve also started saying yes to friends, writing, volunteering for causes close to my heart and serving God at Church. I also promised God that I wouldn’t work or check my emails on Sunday.

Making these changes took time but I’m determined not to make my job a god or an idol. I am made for the Lord’s pleasure. He is God, and I am His vessel.

6 replies
  1. Courtney
    Courtney says:

    Another excellent writing as usual, debra. Thank you for sharing. I love your commitment to Jesus above all else. I love your sacrifice and how you give until it hurts! I hope God restores the balance that you need in your life, hon! You are an incredible writer- please let me know how I can support!

  2. Ralph Brekan
    Ralph Brekan says:

    Excellent post, Debra. I am not a Christian but I was enthralled by your wisdom on this subject and felt compelled to compliment your ability to articulate these difficult esoteric concepts. You have described the secret of traditional “Jewish success.” It’s summed up in the sentence, “I was created to fellowship and to glorify God”. This is WHY the Jewish people (and the Church) found success throughout the ages. There are no secret tricks or magical rituals. It’s pure devotion.

    It’s endearing to see gentiles surrender to the will of the Lord in this world; not just bank on the blood of the son, for sake of the next world. So many claim to be “slain in the spirit” laying back on the laurels of conviction alone, only to fall into material idolatry by human folly. And make no mistake, many, many of my contemporary coreligionists make the same poor choices. Whether by “the tribes of Israel” or the “blood of Christ”, holding an unwavering “I’m chosen/saved, I’m good,” way of thinking, is a bad attitude for living. It plays off instant gratification and does not motivate us for spiritual growth. These are concept meant to jumpstart faith but inevitably became dogma. It’s a “good and done” mentality. And honestly, you’re not good and done until your last breath. It was for YOU that the world was created, but in the end, YOU are but dust and ashes. The reconciliation of these two extremes arrives at a place of acknowledging our purpose as servants of God.

    Through community and prayer, we derive true joy and purpose that no promotion, election or ego-prize can fulfill. Thanks for sharing this wisdom with young people.

    If you have a moment, please enjoy my art. http://www.myawesomeart.com


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