I love creative work, and in my world that translates into strategic planning, designing products, and kickstarting new and exciting initiatives. I find work energizing and intellectually stimulating.
The monotonous work … not so much.
Unfortunately for me, not all the work I do daily is creative. In fact most of our work is of the repetitive and monotonous type — interspersed with occasional opportunities for creativity. This is true of much of our work that must get done every day, both in the office and at home.
Glorifying God in the Repetitious
The chores around the house get done only to become undone in a matter of days. And shoveling snow and mowing the lawn could be fun, if you didn’t have to do it all over again — and again and again and again. Laundry, cleaning, dishes — it all has a certain repetitive feel to the labor.
And it’s not any easier in the corporate world. Writing status reports, attending meetings, organizing filing systems — so much of our office work is just as monotonous. And here’s the challenge we face: How do we approach the monotony of our working lives with a view that is glorifying to God and satisfying to our souls?
Somehow it seems easier to view our work as reflecting God’s glory as Creator in our creativity. Creativity is a reflection of our Creator. But how do we glorify God when engaged in the repetitive work that seems to be completely devoid of creativity? How do we glorify God when we’re cleaning out our email inbox or filing paperwork?
The world offers us little help here. The kinds of work that are repetitive and monotonous are not well-regarded in the culture around us. Rewards abound for the “creative class” but not for the “repetitious class.” But this discontinuity does not reflect the priorities of God.
“Do It Again!”
I recently came upon G. K. Chesterton’s words in John Piper’s book When I Don't Desire God: How to Fight for Joy. It offers a hint on a different way of thinking about the monotony we face in our daily work.
[Children] always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that he has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.
Pause and consider what this says about God’s high view of repetition. He glories in the monotonous repetition of the universe we live in. The sun rises in the same direction every day, and every time it does, God rejoices. And the sun will continue rising repetitively, every day, as a reflection of God's faithful rulership until the day he says, “Stop!”
The moon and stars travel in an orbit settled by the repetitive rhythm of God’s choosing. And he delights in the repetition. This is in no small part what Psalm 19:1–2 says:
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
God is strong enough to exult in monotony.
From the Heavens to Our Inbox
Day after day after day the heavens testify of God's creative power, his faithfulness and his wisdom. Yet, most of us are blind to the daily testimony. Perhaps Chesterton is right, our inability to see God in our daily monotony has less to do with the nature of the tasks and more to do with the effects of sin on our childlike joy.
But what does this have to do with our daily work?
We desperately need new eyes and hearts for the monotonous aspects of our daily work. We need new eyes to see our work in light of God’s mandate to Adam and Eve to “fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). Martin Luther had eyes to see this. He wrote, “when a maid milks the cows (repetitive monotony) or a hired man hoes the field (repetitive monotony) — provided that they are believers, namely, that they conclude that this kind of life is pleasing to God and was instituted by God — they serve God.”
This carries over into the office.
We are called to shape the world we live in, to bring order to it. And in the modern world this may take the look and feel of organizing paperwork, filing reports, and cleaning our desks. When we carry out these monotonous tasks with joy, we exercise order in a world rendered disorderly by sin, and we reflect the faithfulness of our Father. We are God’s agents in tending this world that we live in.
Grace for the Boredom
We must trust God for the joy and strength required to do this work well. Some jobs are simply boring, and as a result they are hard jobs to face every day. And so we need strength — I would argue we need more strength for the monotonous tasks than for the creative work.
But here’s the good news — “the joy of the Lord is our strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). God can and will give us joy and strength for the work he’s called us to do. Even the non-creative stuff.