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The Dignity of Work


When Billy and I were first married, I was working at a university, engaging college students around issues of poverty, homelessness, immigration, and criminal justice. He was working as a supervisor of underground drilling for fiber optics. Similar, right?

I was organizing trips to Tijuana to have dinner with deportees or taking students downtown to spend the afternoon talking with the homeless. He was avoiding gas lines and water mains and pulling fiber cables.

Sometimes I wrestled with this chasm-like difference between our work.

I had often assumed I would marry a youth pastor or a social worker or something in that general “ministry/helping people” category. I sometimes not-so-subtly hinted to Billy that he should quit that job and work for a non-profit organization.

Then one Saturday, he invited several of his co-workers to our apartment for lunch. He made his signature tacos. Someone picked up the guitar and sang folk songs to everyone’s delight. The women helped me clean the kitchen. The men unveiled a cake they had brought celebrating a promotion Billy was rumored to be receiving.

Everyone chattered in Spanish around me, and I basked in the joy of a community of friends, even though I understood very little. Then Billy exited the room, and everyone went silent.

I realized they were all looking at me.

Finally, the guest with the strongest English turned to me and said that he wanted me to know how much they appreciated Billy’s leadership. That he never yelled or screamed at them. That he was always joyful and nice to everyone. That he taught them new skills and wanted to see them succeed.

As you can imagine, I was proud of my husband, but in reality, that experience completely transformed my view of what it means to help people.

Yes, I was discussing the challenges of immigration with my students, but Billy was offering immigrants work where they could provide for their families, were treated with dignity, and could learn new skills to seek out promotions with higher pay and greater freedoms.

This lunch shed new light for me on the dignity of work. Providing jobs is certainly a way to help people.

Writing it out like that makes the concept seem painfully obvious, but I must confess I didn’t always see the connection between business and management skills and service to others.

I am thankful for how my outlook has expanded in this area. How have you seen dignified work be a blessing to others?

This post was originally shared on the Mission Year blog November 2011.

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2 comments

  1. What an amazing perspective! I think many of need a change in how we see these issues in the work force. I forgot sometimes that we need Christians in radio, tv, retail, etc.

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    Replies
    1. Word. I couldn't agree more! Thanks, Beth!

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