In a state of emergency, some workers are considered “essential” and others are told to go home. Workers in the essential category have the opportunity to reflect on the value of their work. This is intuitive for such frontline roles as healthcare providers, law enforcement, and grocers. But this crisis helps us see more clearly how many other vocations are inextricably linked with our basic needs for health and safety. This includes many roles not typically accorded high status — truck drivers, janitors, warehouse stockers, hospital cafeteria workers, sanitation systems workers, gas station clerks. In this context, asking “What would happen if no one did your job?” helps people see how they are a vital link in the chain of human flourishing.
For workers deemed “non-essential” this question may not seem like a hypothetical one. Being sent home as unnecessary is often painful for a person’s sense of dignity. But put the question another way: “What will be added when workers like you can do your job again?” When the need for social isolation comes to an end, what is one of the first things people will want to do? Go out and meet their friends to celebrate! Our restaurants, movie theaters, music venues, playgrounds and malls will be highlights, with new appreciation for those who work there. The absence of sports, entertainment, arts and social activities has left a hole in our lives. Healthcare and public safety may be essential, but the vocations of culture and social enterprise also enrich our lives with energy and joy. I think of my favorite coffee shop, shuttered for now, and reminded of meaningful conversations, productive writing sessions, and devotional reflections made possible by that space and the people who work there. What if no one served coffee ever again? I lift up a prayer of gratitude for baristas!
The question, “What if no one did your job?” challenges the mindset that our value is located in the status of our job title or salary. It pushes us to think about what we actually do, and how this has value in contributing to the well-being of our society. Colossians 3:23 urges that in “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord.” If no one did what you do, God’s service would be diminished. Jesus used questions to spark new thinking about the Kingdom of God. The question, “What would happen if no one did your job?” can also be a tool for discipleship. It can open doors to new insights on the value of our work (and others’ work) in God’s kingdom, especially when our frame of reference has been radically disrupted. In the midst of the pain, uncertainty, and loss of COVID-19, new perspectives on work may take root. We may gain new appreciation for how our work is essential to God’s design.