Recently I heard some horrific statistics regarding young men and their participation in the work force. The host of a national radio program cited an article from The Washington Post that referred to recent research demonstrating a growing tend in America. Apparently, not only are about 20% of young men between 21-30 years of age out of work, but they aren’t too upset about it. Instead, they are finding satisfaction in video games, computers and television, while living in their parents’ basements. Most in this group have not held a job of any kind in at least a year. Staggering. As such, this is the first generation to feel no guilt about a virtual no-show in the work force, or about being dependent upon parents or the government dole.
While this news is shocking, the astute have been warning about this problem for the past several years. In Bill Bennet’s, The Book of Man, published in 2011, he quotes another author,
There is trouble with men today. For example, after studying today’s workforce data, author and commentator David Brooks observed that “in 1954, about 96 percent of American men between the ages of 25-54 worked. Today that number is around 80 percent. One-fifth of all men in their prime working ages are not getting up and going to work.”
There are many reasons for this change in society. Bennet, himself, cites video games, single parenthood, corrosive entertainment and a lack of religion, among other things.
Whatever the cause, I want to discuss one particular concern among the many overwhelming consequences this lack of discipline and drive among our young men will reap on their souls. One young man profiled in the Washington Post article – who holds an Associates Degree, by the way – had some words that should give us great pause:
“When I play a game, I know if I have a few hours I will be rewarded” he said. “With a job, it’s always been up in the air with the amount of work I put in and the reward.”
That quote got me thinking about the true value of work.
Of course, there are the obvious things. Work is necessary in a civil society, allowing us the ability to support ourselves and our families – as such it is often the conduit through which God provides our daily bread. Work is good for us both physically and intellectually. God called man to work, telling Adam, “in the sweat of your face you shall eat bread” (Genesis 3:19).
But what concerns me most is how much work provides for us spiritually, how perfectly our experience with work can reflect our spiritual journey, and how this disconnect with work is will result in an even greater disconnect with the spiritual in our young men.
Labor is a physical manifestation of the spiritual effort we must continue faithfully throughout our lives in order to obtain union with God.
Just as the carpenter must continue to hew the wood, patiently carving, hour upon hour, day by day, seeing the end product only in his mind’s eye, so too, we must continue to pursue heaven, trusting that, indeed, “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for the who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).
Just as the bricklayer lays brick after brick, taking care to place each and every one exactly to plan, not seeing the end of his work, but only trusting in the plan of the architect, so we, too, must continue to pursue excellence with every step, trusting the architect of our lives to create something magnificent from the application of our best efforts to some of the most mundane tasks, day after day after day.
If the carpenter quits before seeing the final product, it will be forever hidden within the confines of the wood. In that case no one will ever see the beauty hidden within. And the wood will never realize its intended end.
If the brick layer allows himself to get tired on the job, his work will be sloppy, and his building will not be up to par. The plan may have been correct, but the brick-layer’s carelessness will cause problems for him, for anyone who works beside him, or anyone who plans to use that building that he so carelessly built. We, too, must apply the utmost care every step of the way, for our work affects those around us in ways we may never witness.
In our vocations as fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, priests, consecrated singles and others, we must not simply plod along, but rather work with passion and purpose – and great care – from hour to hour, day to day. Never mind the monotony; never mind the challenges; never mind the tiresome little crosses we must bear.
We learn these things through a consistent experience with work. Not necessarily paid work. As a stay-at-home mom, I certainly see the connection between my work life and my spiritual life. I toil day after day, trusting in God’s plan for my children. I see glimpses here and there, but so often as a mother, I am tempted to throw my hands up at what appears to be the futility of the work. I’ll never be able to do this job right. This is too much. It is too thankless. It will never be finished. Too often I fail to see the fruits of my labor.
No matter. I am only called to lay the bricks according to God’s plan. I must trust that He will work everything out for the best. Day after day, I must rejoice even in the mundane. I must bring my all to the job that, frankly, doesn’t always offer positive feedback. But there is one way that my experience differs from that of the bricklayer. The architect may not be standing alongside the bricklayer, assuring him and encouraging his progress. In our case, Christ is with us. He helps us to lay that brick. He applies the mortar so all our efforts build toward the finished product, which is the eternal happiness of heaven for ourselves and our families.
If we ignore the architect, if we lose faith in the finished product, if we try to follow our own plans, we will look back and wish we would have paid closer attention, that we would not have trudged along with such half-baked effort. For our lives will be scarred reflections of our own sloppiness, our lack of patience, diligence and discipline.
We learn through work that patience matters. That, eventually, given great effort day after day, year after year, we’ll see results. Through our experience in work, we can deduce that that progress in the spiritual life is slow, but that it will pay off. We learn that we don’t necessarily have to see the big picture in order to know it’s there.
Ultimately, work gives us evidence in the physical realm of what religion can do for us in the spiritual realm. According to Saint John Paul II,
(9) Work is a good thing for man-a good thing for his humanity-because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfilment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes “more a human being”. – Laborem Exercens
To the extent that our young men are not “achieving fulfillment” as human beings, we cannot possibly achieve fulfillment as a society.
Even more importantly, if we do not teach our young men to have patience to perform a good job in pursuit of long-term satisfaction on earth, how will they ever be able to pursue the long-term satisfaction of heaven? If the immediate feedback from a video game trumps the long-term satisfaction of a job well-done, how will they ever be willing to do the work necessary on earth now, that one day they might hear these glorious words from heaven:
Well done, my good and faithful servant…enter into the joy of your master.”