Do we live to work or do we work to live?
A young woman recently went viral on social media for a video in which she lamented the difficulties of working her full-time job. “I have to work 40 hours a week just so I can have a place to live,” she says in the video. She explained that she only had several hundred dollars left after paying rent, barely covering her food and other expenses.
In addition to her financial woes, the young woman complains that she’s constantly exhausted. “I’m so tired that, like anything I need to do, I just push off to the weekend,” she says through tears. She can’t even find rest on the weekends since she leaves her other chores and responsibilities for Saturdays and Sundays.
What struck me about the video was how this woman’s entire existence seemed to be working. No man can live to work and be truly happy.
People responded to her post, saying she should seek government assistance, get another job or find another place to live. Maybe they’re right. We don’t know her full situation. She could very well benefit from help learning life skills like time management and financial planning.
What struck me about the post, though, is that I heard her looking for something more, something deeper.
“I’m not made for this,” she says. And you know what? I think she’s right.
“Work is for man, not man for work,” Pope St. John Paul II once said. The late pope knew well the demands of tiresome, physical work. He famously labored in a quarry and a factory. His philosophizing on the meaning of work was informed by his own direct experiences working hard, demanding jobs. It’s all the more powerful then, to hear him insist that man is the subject of work.
We need work. Among all of God’s creatures, only human beings are capable of work in any meaningful sense. It’s part of what fulfills us.
And yet, what struck me about the video was how this woman’s entire existence seemed to be working. No man can live to work and be truly happy.
So what were we made for? What will make us happy?
Worship. Human beings were made to adore God, pay homage to him, and order life as instructed by him. St. John Paul II writes, “Marxism had promised to uproot the need for God from the human heart, but the results have shown that it is not possible to succeed in this without throwing the heart into turmoil.”
As a priest, I wish more people could experience how restful and refreshing I find Sunday Mass. When we worship God, the creator gives our hearts back to us. New horizons of love and grace are opened, realms of life that are often unattended or ignored. Even when I hear (or preach, if I’m being honest) a lackluster homily, I find the graces of the Mass always renew me. I always feel better after celebrating Mass.
I don’t think the woman in the video is just a snowflake complaining about life being hard. I don’t think a government program or a raise will offer the answer that she’s looking for. I think this is a cry of the heart. And I think it’s incumbent on us to listen.
“I don’t know what to do about it anymore,” the young woman says in her video. This isn’t a matter of just a little more work-life balance. This is a spiritual problem. A problem of meaning.
She’s not alone. Many people are asking this question. I just hope they find the answer in Christ. “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened,” Our Lord says, “And I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28).