Perhaps the best advice I’ve received for a Christian experiencing job dissatisfaction comes from the contemplative thoughts of a Trappist monk. Not just any Trappist monk mind you, but one of the foremost spiritual thinkers of the 20th century—Thomas Merton.
This, then is our desert: to live facing despair, but not to consent.
The Desert And The Wilderness
In the unassuming chapter that begins “Thoughts In Solitude” Merton uses “desert” and “wilderness” figuratively and literally to represent separate, yet overlapping images. It is where the Desert Fathers sought solitude with God and where the Chosen People, cared for by God alone, wandered for 40 years. On the other hand, it is a country of madness, the refuge of the devil, and contemporary with the book’s writing (published 1956), home to the booming development of Las Vegas and atomic bomb testing.
“When man and his money and machines move out into the desert, and dwell there, not fighting the devil as Christ did, but believing in his promises of power and wealth, and adoring his angelic wisdom, then the desert itself moves everywhere. Everywhere is the desert. Everywhere is solitude in which man must do penance and fight the adversary and purify his own heart in the grace of God.”
I am certainly no Merton expert, but it seems he is both lamenting and alerting readers to the pervading and evolving forms of the devil’s prowling around in the world. Concepts of the devil’s accusatory and deceitful activity that we discern from Scripture, Christian writing, and our own experience still exist in the world. But as things progress, so evil manifests itself in new ways not previously imagined. Even places where people previously sought God, like the desert, are not immune to man’s progress. In modern society, a place to escape the woes of the world is no longer available. So we must find solitude and resist the devil wherever we are.
Waging War Against Despair
And the poignant conclusion of this little chapter—as well as what piqued my Harps On Willows Interest:
The desert is the home of despair. And despair, now, is everywhere. Let us not think that our interior solitude consists in the acceptance of defeat. We cannot escape anything by consenting tacitly to be defeated. Despair is an abyss without bottom. Do not think to close it by consenting to it and trying to forget you have consented.
This, then, is our desert: to live facing despair, but not to consent. To trample it down under hope in the Cross. To wage war against despair unceasingly. That war is our wilderness. If we wage it courageously, we will find Christ at our side. If we cannot face it, we will never find Him.
Modern deserts have become epicenters of new breeds of wickedness. Both Las Vegas’ lights and a corporation’s bottom line tend to blur the lines between things that Christians, and perhaps non-believers in general, could previously see so clearly. Things that the Bible does not warn of explicitly. Jesus’ exhortation to “Stay awake!” takes on ever-increasing significance.
Perhaps Thomas Merton never imagined the desert of a despairing job situation. Much less Christians in a despairing job situation. But then again, he didn’t specify any exact context for despair, but painted it in the broad stroke of “everywhere.”. With his insight into the pervasiveness of evil in the world, and its unseemly gravitational pull, he knew readers could find help and comfort in their own situations–even job dissatisfaction.
What Is “Despair”?
“Despair” is both a noun and verb. Oxford Dictionary defines each as:
- Despair (noun)—the complete loss or absence of hope.
- Despair (verb)—Lose or be without hope.
What Is A Despairing Job Situation If Not A Desert?
“The desert is the home of despair,” so wherever your despair is, that is your desert. For some of us, the desert is an unfulfilling job.
According to the Oxford definition above, despair is loss of hope. If we are without hope we are defeated. This is perfectly fitting to our situation because an unfulfilling and/or hated job assaults all hope. In this bewildered state, the evil inclinations of our flesh bombard all attempts to “see God in all of it,” that is to trust God. Hopeless, doubting, and without joy are a recipe for despair.
Internal and External
And if the internal turmoil isn’t enough, plenty is available externally when we dare confide in a Christian co-worker. I’ve written before how well-meaning Christian friends have said “You need to trust God and accept this job.” Maybe if they had left off the “accept this job” part, I would’ve heard the good advice? Because the “accept this job” part is in essence saying “accept the despair, accept the defeat.” Consenting to defeat leads to more despair, so that can’t be the answer.
And I ask myself, why are so many well-meaning Christians, both friends and those who wax eloquently on the subject of faith and work (who are the worst), wanting me to consent to a job I detest? And why do I trust that they somehow have all their stuff with God more together than I do? And why do I allow their hollow advice to make me doubt, even slightly, what I know in my heart to be true? Can you see the devil’s refuge? Maybe playground is a better word? Can you see that he wants people in despair? And will readily use anyone to achieve that goal?
“Despair is an abyss without bottom,” Merton says. In the last days, the serpent will be thrown in a bottomless pit. His release is only by means of an angel sent from God which precedes his eternal condemnation. Hasn’t Satan consented to despair? He is defeated. He has no hope. He is miserable. Doesn’t this indicate that consenting to despair is satanic?
As far as refusing to consent to my job situation goes, I have always known deep in my heart I should never consent to despair Never!
So why the doubt? Why do I have to find an obscure paragraph written by a monk in the 1950’s to remind me of who I am in Christ? (Glory to God that He showed it to me!)
I am more than a conqueror. Like David facing Goliath, I will trample down any despair under hope in the Cross. Look at Merton’s implicit point: Consenting to despair is consenting to defeat, consenting to having no hope. But not consenting, in facing the despair, hope is renewed. And this hope is in the only person worth having hope in—Jesus Christ.
Waging War Unceasingly
My fellow Harps on Willows, we ARE waging war against despair, but not only when we go to our jobs. Not only 1 day a week. Not a few hours a week. We are waging war against despair unceasingly. Isn’t this how it has attacked us? And necessarily how we are called to fight back?
Waging War Courageously
And we are waging war against despair courageously.
Based on my own experiences and those I have read of other people—regardless of desert variety—I believe it when Merton says that if we wage this war courageously, we WILL find Christ at our side. Is there anything more wonderful to hope for? Is there anyone more wonderful to find at our side than Jesus Christ Himself? Alongside us, in the everywhere desert, facing the despair, refusing to accept its reign of evil, waging war against it, as Jesus brings all things under subjection to Him?
Could it be? After all these years that I have cried and prayed over my job situation, distraught that God never answered. And even worse, feeling that He had totally rejected me. Could it be that all along He was right by my side? That tears had blurred my vision to see the obvious? That instead of fighting the situation, all I had to do was face it courageously?
Best Advice EVER For Christian Job Dissatisfaction
So it turns out, after all these years, the best Christian advice I’ve heard/read for a Christian in an unfulfilling and/or depressing job situation (and a multitude of other tribulations we encounter in this temporal home) comes from a man familiar with deserts. Certainly in his own personal wildernesses, Thomas Merton waged war on despair and no doubt found Christ at his side.
My hope is in Christ Jesus. And I’m actually looking forward to waging war on despair—unceasingly and courageously. Because then, I too will find my Savior, my friend, my brother, my Lord, Jesus Christ at my side. Failure is not an option.
If we wage it courageously, we will find Christ at our side. If we cannot face it, we will never find Him.
Until Next Time—
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. 2 Corinthians 13:14