Lent, work and religion

A bartender notices one of his patrons always orders three beers, two for his two brothers who have moved away to different countries. One day he notices that the man only ordered two beers. The bartender says, “Please accept my condolences on the death of one of your brothers. You know, the two beers and all…” The man replied, “You’ll be happy to hear that my two brothers are alive and well. It’s just that I, myself, have decided to give up drinking for Lent.”

Besides great jokes Lent has many meanings and traditions associated with it. Did you know that Lent is a tithing time – Lent is almost one tenth of the year and so we can give back to the Lord one tenth of our time. Lent is also a time to emphasize fasting and giving alms to the poor.

It all begins with FAT Tuesday (from the times fat/meat would not be part of Lenten diet so it had to be used up – yes, my mother deep-fried pancakes in fat). Picture a stack of pancakes slathered in whipped cream with syrup running down the sides and strawberries, raspberries and peach slices over all. MacDonald’s fillet-o-fish was a response to Lenten fast. But Lent is not all about food. 

In Matthew’s gospel we hear “when you pray… when you fast… when you give alms…” (6:5-18) do so in secret so that God can repay you. Do not make a public show of these actions. Notice the advice is when you do these things, not if. It is like a command. DO this: pray, fast and give alms. And Lent is the time for this.

Something we can all focus on during lent and for the rest of our lives is work as prayer. Work can make us miserable or happy, fulfilled or depressed. In “Work Is Making America Miserable” Derek Thompson talks about work becoming a religion.

The logic or motivation behind the moneyed elite “isn’t economic at all. It’s emotional—even spiritual,” says Thompson. Like Christians attending church on Sunday, these workers choose the office because “it is where they feel most themselves.” It’s the closest thing they have to fun and fulfilment.

Many have grown to worship their job, and that accounts for the subsequent decline in church attendance. “ ‘Workism’ is among the most potent of the new religions,” says Thompson. Wealthier workers are spending longer hours working at a time when the shorter work week is emerging. 

Americans have forgotten an old-fashioned goal of working. It is to buy free time to spend with their family, friends, and partners. In his conclusion Thompson asserts: “work is not life’s product, but its currency. What we choose to buy with it is the ultimate project of living”.

The Christian offers prayers, works and sufferings to the Lord. Our daily work, whether that is household chores and attending to infants and children, or work in the field or office, is a prayer just as our very lives are offered to the Lord. Whatever our daily job, we need to achieve a balance that will provide time for family and friends.

Work is the avenue through which God wants us to journey towards the deeper things. Our long hours of pain, sweat, suffering and yes, even joy, are our gift given back gratefully to our Creator. 

(566 words)

By Ken Rolheiser