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7/30/2009 - Mary Johnston

Watching my friends and co-workers grieve the loss of their jobs has been difficult.  The current rate of unemployment creates not only an economic crisis, but a spiritual crisis as well.  Sometimes this is met with disdain as if our jobs/vocations should not take center stage in our lives.  I’ve heard it said that we shouldn’t be defined by what we do.  But I partially disagree.  Our work (paid or not), at its best, gives us meaning and purpose.  

In the classic book, Man’s Search For Meaning, Viktor Frankl described how Holocaust prisoners were able to transcend deplorable conditions and emerge with body, mind and spirit intact. The key was the ability to find meaning in an environment which appeared void of all meaning and rationality.  He wrote, “What matters…is not the meaning of life in general, but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.”

Scholars in theology and psychology have written variations on this theme for decades.  Many modern day maladies reflect this absence of meaning and its consequences:  empty nest syndrome, mid-life crisis, loss of independence, boredom, spiritual malaise, job dissatisfaction or loss, marital discontent, etc.  

Frankl believed that we find meaning in life by doing a deed, by experiencing a value, and by suffering.  Our work provides opportunities for all three.


5 Comments From Other Members
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7/30/2009 Susan Terbay from Dayton OH wrote:
Interesting blog Mary. One of my favorite quotes is: God doesn't want our deeds: God wants the love that prompts them. St. Teresa of Avila My work - no matter what it involves is my ministry. My motherhood as well as my relationships is also a ministry - unless I look at it as only work or a title then that is all it is to me - but a ministry involves much more. Food for thought blog!
7/30/2009 Dorothy Sander from Durham NC wrote:
Losing a job is so much more than losing work. It's the loss of income and all that entails, the loss of the part of you that is connected to the work as identity, the loss of the immediacy of day to day friendships and a reason for getting up in the morning. It's often the loss of future, of consistency, of hope. We need not be our jobs for our jobs to be a large part of how we see and define ourselves. It is the rare person who can stand back apart from those things that have come to define them and remain object during such a loss.
7/31/2009 Suzanne Caplan from PA wrote:
The systems that empoy many do not include the reality of this meaning in their own process. A few of my friends have been sent packing (some at about the tight age) but without anyone taking the time or making the effort to ease the transtion. I am hurting for one who was escorted off his job after 30 years when let go forgetting that the company was once in his family and he is the most honest person most of us know. It still came down to "clean out your desk." I hope I am nicer to me when I retire from a life of selfemployment.
7/31/2009 from wrote:
Losing a job has to be one of the most devastating things that can happen to a person, especially if that person has put themselves into it, and for a long time. It is a huge loss and needs to be grieved.
8/2/2009 LeAnn Farley from Mt. Pleasant IA wrote:
Human response to the Holocaust is fascinating. We do all need meaning. I was watching a televangelist recently who talked about the individual strangers we meet as "assignments" put there by God for us to love. This is a very appealing message, because you don't have to get hired by someone to do that. Everyone can do that. Being fired hurts even worse if reorganization eliminates your position. It makes you question the value of what you were doing when you were there, if they can get along fine without now. And that managers are taught to escort people out just heaps on humiliation, too.

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