We focused on the power of perspective in our staff devotions recently. The parable of the three bricklayers was retold as a reminder that knowing our purpose brings our life’s motivations to our work, which brings our work to life. The story echoes the real experience of Christopher Wren, the architect commissioned to rebuild St Paul’s Cathedral in London after the great fire of 1666. Five years into the massive project he stopped to pose a simple question to three brick layers. “What are you doing?” he asked. The first replied, “I am a brick layer, working hard to feed my family,” The second offered, “I am a builder. I am building the walls of a church.” The third answered, “I am a cathedral builder. I am a part of building a Kingdom.” Their physical task was the same but their perspective was vastly different.
We might notice that the focus of the first was a job. For the second, it was an occupation. For the third it was a calling. Many of us have experienced jobs that put food on the table but lacked a sense of satisfaction. If we are fortunate enough to have experienced a position that taps into our God-given design, we know it is possible for work to feel more like fulfilling our purpose. A job can also become a calling when we understand that our personal mission field can be wherever God places us at this moment in time. There is power in perspective.
This is the time of year that our students start thinking about summer jobs, summer internships, and for those graduating—the first steps beyond commencement. I haven’t ever seen looking for work as a favorite task, have you? It comes layered with fear of rejection and failure, typically some dead ends before finding open doors, and a fight to hang onto forward momentum. As parents, our eagerness for our students to find the paycheck tends to add to the pressure they already feel. We have good intentions but not always good instincts about what feels like hounding instead of helping. “Is your resume ready to go?” “Do you have any job leads yet?” “Have you been on any interviews?” When that is our approach, the message we are sending is, “It doesn’t matter what you do with your bricks. Just hurry up and get your own pile.”
Is there something for us to learn about our parenting perspective from the parable of the bricklayers? I don’t generally hear parents say that their hope for their children is food on the table. Instead I hear them say they want their kids to be happy with their choices. Scripture affirms that we have maximum satisfaction and joy when what we do lines up with our God-given talents, desires, and passions, whether that is using a particular set of skills, serving a specific group of people, sharing an expertise, or supporting a particular cause. Philippians 2:13 says “For it is God who is producing in you both the desire and the ability to do what pleases Him.” The best support we can offer our students may be to focus less on their report of their history on a resume and more on fulfilling God’s future purpose for them as their primary objective.
Instead of aiming at a job title, can we ask them first for the environments in which they will best thrive and find the most joy? For my adult children it might be a work culture where the motivation to get it right is rewarded, where creative minds are encouraged, and where gaining ground as a group is far more important than individual shiny stars. What about yours? Is it where the outdoors is their office? Where the core value of integrity is practiced? Where there is an opportunity to impact the poor? What does God have in mind for the motivations he built into your son or daughter?
If the purpose for a job search is to find a place to use your God-given gifts and motivations instead of just earning a paycheck, looking for work becomes more treasure hunt than chore. Instead of the parental job search interrogation, try on questions that invite a dialogue about their vision of who God means them to be—wherever they land.
- How would you like to use your talents this summer? (Reinforce the ideas they are considering that would help them develop transferrable skills or use their natural gifts while they earn some money for school.)
- How can you invest your summer to build toward the goals you have for the future? (As an example, if you hear “I want to be in health care,” WHATEVER they find in health care gives them exposure to the field of their choice. Even data entry can become an especially good job!)
- What is your vision for how God might use you in a work environment, regardless of the setting? (Let’s face it, some of them are going to have jobs that are not related to their career aspirations.)
If your student is still questioning what motivates them, where their strengths lie, or what most interests them in the world of work, encourage them to visit the Office of Career and Leadership Development to do some assessment work with trained professionals. Having a specific language set to describe how God has gifted them will help them narrow their focus on summer jobs, internships, or a career goal, and be equipped to articulate those strengths more clearly in an interview. If your student is already clear about their career goals, using the Career Communities alumni network available through the Office of Career and Leadership Development is an excellent way to test their interests on informational interviews, network for job leads, and build a support system of alums in their field of interest.
What if they DON’T get the job they hoped for or even the one they are qualified for? Do they see that wherever God takes them, they can choose to see their jobs as an opportunity to be a kingdom builder instead of just a brick layer? I love the story of Amos. Amos was a fig picker and a sheep herder. Neither of those were flashy or impressive jobs and I’m pretty sure Amos had a humble approach to his status in the community. It is clear God didn’t make Amos to be JUST a fig picker. In Amos chapter 8, the Lord asks “What do you have in your hands”, and Amos replies simply, “A basket of ripe fruit,” and from those not-what-you-expect tools, the Lord showed Amos that the time was ripe for the people of Israel and a new perspective of himself as a prophet ready to minister to the people, starting right where he was at the time.
Perspective has power. It changes attitudes. It takes a stay at home mom from diaper wiper to major mentor. It takes a cashier from change maker to life changer. It makes a life guard a soul saver. It takes a paycheck and gives it purpose. It transforms every job into an opportunity to be a kingdom builder instead of just a brick layer. It takes whatever bricks are in our hands and uses them to build the Kingdom of God.
I would venture to guess that in 1671 there were no life coaches or career counselors helping Christopher Wren’s bricklayers find their positions or their purpose. I would also venture a guess that the cathedral builder who had the broadest vision for the potential in his job, ended up as the inspirational leader for the rest of the bricklayers. Perhaps the most helpful question we could ask our students about employment is one we should ask ourselves first: What perspective do we have about work? Let’s challenge ourselves to think about what we are role-modeling to our students in the kind of job search encouragement we provide. No matter where our students land for the summer or their first step beyond the diploma, can we help them see the opportunity to practice the power of perspective in what God places in their hands?