Work as Prayer

Finding the sacred in what we do

I am 62, an age when the word “retirement” comes up frequently in conversation.

“I can’t wait to retire in June,” Jim says, but will.

“I doubt I’ll ever retire,” a woman laments, having never quite recovered from accumulated debt.

“I can’t believe how busy I am since I retired,” another Jim says who has devoted much of his time to mastering the cello.

“I worry I will spend all of my time on Facebook,” a friend who will retire later this year confesses.

For me, the word “retirement” doesn’t quite fit. I’m no longer an employee or independent contractor. Yet, by my calculations, I spend more than 25 hours a week in my home office. “Working,” I tell myself and others, to give “writing” some heft and credibility. We writers are an insecure bunch at heart and will do what we need to to elevate our craft—which we labor over with few if any guarantees—to a legitimate pursuit.

Near the end of the Ash Wednesday service last week, my mental gears were already shifting. Which route should I take to get to St. Louis Park, where I planned to visit my mother-in-law and then spend the evening with the grandkids? Should I have picked up Valentine’s Day cards? Did I remember my slippers? If 2-year-old Charlie looks at my forehead funny because of the dark smudge, should I tell him Grandma forgot to wash her face?

The words from the final prayer of the service broke through my wanderings: “. . . work as prayer . . .” Huh. The confession, the psalm, the sermon had all held me briefly with their power, but “work as prayer” wouldn’t let me go.

During my drive across town I turned the phrase round and round in my mouth and in my head until “work as prayer” became its own petition. May my work be a sacred conversation. May my writing reflect the longings of the heart. May all that I do be a sign of thanksgiving, forgiveness, and love.

Some of us still work. Some of us are glad we don’t. Still others have found different pursuits to enrich our lives. Imagine that whatever we occupy our time with we call prayer. How would it change the nature of what we do? How would it change us?

Writer-friend Nancy J. Nordenson talks about work in her elegant book Finding Livelihood. “Like Studs Terkel’s workers,” she writes, “I am on a search for daily meaning as well as for daily bread . . . I want to cast my net on the side of astonishment . . . I want to find God at work in me and through me.” (p. 4)

Nordenson’s wisdom on the subject of livelihood has drawn me closer to understanding work as prayer. Work as provision and work for the sheer delight of it. Maybe “astonishment” is the word I seek. Maybe it’s the and that retirement allows.

I vote we lose the word “retirement” because it no longer applies. People of a certain age are doing anything and everything but our parents’ version of retiring. They are helping their children. They are reading more. They are sharing what they know with others. They are pursuing hobbies, seriously or not. They may be employed part-time in a no-stress job and loving it. Perhaps, after all these years, they are finding their heart’s passion. Or they’re enjoying the legacy they built during a long career and mentoring others to do the same. Each is a prayer of thanksgiving and gratitude. A prayer that whatever we do, whenever we do it, our “work” is done with a fullness we may never have believed possible.

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