Finding Motivation in Work
Day after day it’s the same thing. Wake up, finish breakfast, participate in online lectures, complete your assignments, maybe communicate with friends via your phone, eat dinner, go to bed. All while staying in the confines of your house. This can be difficult for many reasons. One of those reasons is continuing to find motivation for that schoolwork day after day. It’s already hard enough to find motivation for seemingly boring assignments during the regular flow of life. Now add the monotony of this quarantine and the sadness of not being around your friends, and sometimes this motivation is nearly impossible to find. So how can we fully understand why we work and how can we find motivation for it in a time as strange as this?
To answer the above question adequately, we must dive into and discuss many smaller questions. Questions like “Why do I feel this lack of motivation towards work?”, “What is this schoolwork actually preparing me for?”, “How does my belief in God change my outlook on work?” and “How is rest (Sabbath) involved in all of this?”. By looking at Scripture and sections of Timothy Keller’s “Every Good Endeavor”, this article will hopefully give you encouragement and some motivation for the monotony of quarantined work.
Here’s some good news. You are completely normal. The fact that sometimes you don’t feel motivated to work is not out of the ordinary at all. You are not lazier or worse off than anyone else because you have a hard time finding motivation to complete your math homework. Now for some bad news. This lack of motivation and laziness is a product of our broken world and our sinful nature. The scriptures often refer to laziness with disdain. The book of Proverbs warns against the sluggard (Proverbs 26:13-16) and cites laziness as a cause for complacency and hunger (Proverbs 19:15). But even with these warnings, we oftentimes can’t help but feel complacency creep into our lives.
So how does looking at schoolwork differently help someone gain motivation? Well on a practical surface level, doing well in school will allow you to follow your passions into a potential career, even if that job is something that you don’t expect. Throughout High School and into College, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer. I thrived in history, english, civics and law classes and had motivation in these classes. When the realization that I didn’t want to go to Law School caught up, I lost some of my motivation to study and do work in these subjects. By looking back however, I can see how these classes taught me certain critical thinking and analysis skills that I take into my job as a Student Minister today. All this to say, what is seemingly mundane work right now can have meaning by leading to more inspiring work in the future.
In a deeper theological sense, the essence of work is good and with the exception of harmful work, all work is dignified and brings about cultivation. In his book “Every Good Endeavor” Timothy Keller says “Work of all kinds, whether with the hands or with the mind, evidences our dignity as human beings--- because it reflects the image of God the Creator in us”. And emphatically yes, that includes “boring” and “pointless” schoolwork. He goes on to make that point that humans were the only creatures given work by God and creating something is echoing an inner desire given to us by God. By working to the best of your ability on schoolwork, you are honoring and pleasing to the Lord. This framework makes doing work seem much more important and even inspiring.
Now one potential problem with putting such importance on the act of work, is that it can produce much anxiety, especially when it comes to students and the already high pressure of schoolwork. At times schoolwork can really feel like a life or death situation. This pressure can be heightened with this stressful situation going on right now. But there are two truths that can help with this anxiety. First off, a bad grade is not the end of the world. Secondly, the Lord cares about our anxieties and He encourages us to give our anxiety to Him. Philippians 4:6 says this exact thing: “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God”. It goes on to say that the Lord will grant you peace for this anxiety. The Lord cares about your worries, He listens and He can grant you peace, even for something as small as anxiety over schoolwork.
There is one key element to work that has not been mentioned yet. And that is rest or Sabbath. This might seem strange because work and rest seem like total opposites, but rest has been intricately intertwined with work since the beginning of time. For us to see the value of rest and work, look no farther than the very first couple chapters of Genesis. For six straight yom (Hebrew for day or finite period of time) the Lord was hard at work molding and creating the universe out of nothing with no point of reference. On the seventh yom, Scripture says “God finished his work that he had done, and he rested” Genesis 2:2.
For us mortal humans, one reason rest is good is because we absolutely need it to survive and also to perform our work well. But God is omnipotent (all powerful) and He doesn’t get tired so why would he rest after finishing his creation? In Genesis 1, the Lord creates everything and “He sees that it is good”. On the seventh day, also known as the Sabbath, God has finally completed his work and he can step back and enjoy and admire all that he has made. Since we are made in the image of God, we also have this innate desire to enjoy and appreciate what we have cultivated from our work. Resting allows us to take time to recover but also to enjoy our created work and give thanks to the Lord for giving us the ability to do this work. Rest being balanced with work compliments and in some cases completes our work.
So take a deep breath. Yes, at times your work will be hard and it will feel like your motivation is nowhere to be found. But take heart, because work has divine meaning, the Lord will take on your anxiety, and rest is available for you to recharge and admire what you have cultivated.