“Good Work Well Done”: Dorothy Sayers on Vocation
As another complement to our adult Sunday School class, I’d like to introduce you this week to a more recent Christian writer’s reflections on vocation. Dorothy Sayers was a mid-twentieth-century English literary scholar, novelist, and thoughtful Christian. She was friends with C. S. Lewis and wrote a number of insightful essays about theology, education, and culture. In one of these essays, called “Why Work?” she wrote:
In nothing has the Church so lost her hold on reality as in her failure to understand and respect the secular vocation. She has allowed work and religion to become separate departments, and is astonished to find that, as a result, the secular work of the world is turned to purely selfish and destructive ends, and that the greater part of the world’s intelligent workers have become irreligious, or at least, uninterested in religion. But is it astonishing? How can any one remain interested in a religion which seems to have no concern with nine-tenths of his life? The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays. What the church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables. Church by all means, and decent forms of amusement, certainly—but what use is all that if in the very centre of his life and occupation he is insulting God with bad carpentry? No crooked table-legs or ill-fitting drawers ever, I dare [say], came out of the carpenter’s shop at Nazareth. Nor, if they did, could anyone believe that they were made by the same hand that made heaven and earth. No piety in the worker will compensate for work that is not true to itself; for any work that is untrue to its own technique is a living lie….
Let the church remember this: that every maker and worker is called to serve God in his profession or trade—not outside it. The Apostles complained rightly when they said it was not meet they should leave the word of God and serve tables; their vocation was to preach the word. But the person whose vocation it is to prepare the meals beautifully might with equal justice protest: It is not meet for us to leave the service of our tables to preach the word…. The only Christian work is good work well done. Let the Church see to it that the workers are Christian people and do their work well, as to God: then all the work will be Christian work, whether it is Church embroidery, or sewage-farming.”
Grace-Based Action Point
I’ll leave you with one other excerpt from Sayers’s essay. You can read it in full in a collection of her essays called Creed or Chaos (New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Company, 1949, pp. 46-62, available for free here on Archive.org).
The habit of thinking about work as something one does to make money is so ingrained in us that we can scarcely imagine what a revolutionary change it would be to think about it instead in terms of the work done. It would mean taking the attitude of mind we reserve for our unpaid work—our hobbies, our leisure interests, the things we make and do for pleasure—and making that the standard of all our judgments about things and people. We should ask of an enterprise, not “will it pay?” but “is it good?”; of a man, not “what does he make?” but “what is his work worth?”; of goods, not “can we induce people to buy them?” but “are they useful things well made?”; of employment, not “how much a week?” but “will it exercise my faculties to the utmost?”
What is your attitude toward your work? Are you engaged in good work? Are you doing it well? Let’s keep thinking about these kinds of questions together as we continue our study of vocation.
Yours in Christ,