Shirin McArthur

prayerful pondering

Blurring the Boundaries of Work

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In the past few weeks I’ve taken on a number of photojournalist assignments, in part because the editor of the Grant County Beat is taking some time out of town, and needed me to cover more events. In a couple of cases, however, Henry and I have decided to go to an event, and I let her know I would be going and asked if she wanted me to take pictures since I would be there anyway. So, in a sense, we were combining business and pleasure.

Then, a couple of days ago, a client asked if I ever worked on the weekends. I said yes, I often work Saturdays, so we set an appointment to have a conversation on Saturday afternoon. As I was uploading pictures that evening for an event I had just covered, I found myself thinking about the very clear boundaries that many companies these days try to create between work and time away—and how I’m discovering that life in a small town, and in my life as a freelancer, often just doesn’t work that way.

DSC_3991And then I recalled the fact that, for many earlier generations, in this country and others, the home was also the workplace, because they farmed or ranched, or because the carpentry or mechanic’s shop was on the same property as the home. Going out to milk the cows, or let the chickens out of their coop in the morning, was as natural as breathing, and as much a part of work as turning on my computer in the mornings.

In fact, those theoretically clear boundaries between work and the rest of life are fairly recent, and rather artificial in nature. Employees who check email or make personal phone calls at their desks seem to me to be tapping into a deeper and older tradition that sees life as one fabric with a variety of threads. Even Jesus actually commended the “dishonest” manager (Luke 16) for putting human relationships ahead of the accumulation of wealth—and I certainly don’t hear that parable lauded in business circles today!

So what does all this mean? For me, it’s about living “in this world but not of it” (John 17), in the sense of recognizing when it’s beneficial to follow artificial rules, and when the flexibility of the freelance life is actually, also, an invitation to live in a more integrated way. As Jesus pointed out to the Pharisees, who didn’t “get” the message of his parable about the manager, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15).

How do you seek to justify yourself in the eyes of others, instead of in the heart of God? When have you “blurred the boundaries” in your life? Where might you need to become less “honest” in the world’s terms, in order to act more faithfully as a child of God?

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