Sunday, March 25, 2007

You're just egging me on...

I was asked for a definition of what I consider "work" in a relationship (that is, the definition I was using in my Amicus vs. Animus posts). Since Answers.com lists 46 definitions for the word (not counting sub-definitions), I think it's only fair if this post does the same...just kidding.

In as few words as possible, here is my definition: work is that action which exceeds what we are pleased to contribute in a relationship. That's a very broad definition, and could include any number of things — turning off the radio during your favorite song, humbling yourself to make an apology, accepting help when offered, not shaving your cat when he jumps directly into a pile of newly cleaned and de-haired clothes — but I think this is the source of many conflicts in relationships. Conflict doesn't result from the things we are happy to do for each other. ("Honey, could you please watch the football game?" Fight ensues. Okay, well maybe it would in my house.)

In physics, work is defined as taking place when a force exerted on an object results in motion in (paraphrasing now) the general direction of the force. What do you have when a force acts on an object that doesn't move in response? Pressure, another source of conflict in relationships. (For an example of force that does not result in work, consider the pressure on my chest that wakes me up when my cat jumps onto my bed in the middle of the night dragging his favorite toy – the belt from my old bathrobe – and wants to play. The conflict: though I don't get up to play, I don't get to sleep either.)

Armed now with this excellent definition of "work" (saying so myself), think about the things in your relationships you think of as work. How does that feeling vary from relationship to relationship? I can think of some people for whom I would consider giving a ride to the airport work, and a much larger number (happily) for whom I would consider it a privilege. That all makes it sound like I think the characterization of effort as work depends on the level of devotion in the relationship and I say, "Absolutely! (Among other things.)" So when does an action cease to be work? When something changes; when you get to know the person better or in a more positive way, when your attitude toward people in general changes, when the circumstances surrounding the event change or — and this is the key one — when you change to become the kind of person who does not consider whatever-it-is work.

Here's my best example: my relationship with God. I have alluded to a relationship with God a couple of times in my previous posts as being the ultimate form of friendship. I love God, but I notice that as my intimacy with him changes, my willingness and desire to do things like study my Bible or serve others (God being the true object of that service) also changes. When I put off doing those things for reasons like "too tired," "not enough time" or "just don't want to," my intimacy with God changes and my whole perspective changes along with it. As I learn (and relearn, and relearn, and relearn, and...) to devote my time, effort and self to him on a regular and continual basis, he forms me more into the kind of person who is pleased to do those things, and they stop being work — until the next time I need to relearn it. Such is the process of sanctification.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous dan said...

Well said. I appreciate your definition and the clarity it brings to your discussion. I had a feeling that was your intended meaning.

Part of the reason I asked: The word "work," in theology, we like to maintain as a neutral or even positive term, as it seems to be part of the mandate given to humans by God which is "good." To describe the post-fall, work-related frustration we speak of "toil." ("Duty" is often employed in a similarly negative sense.) It is highly likely that we will work in the eschaton, though without toil. A blissful conception, if you think about it!

When applied to relationships, you are right on. What is needed and desired is continuity between our affections and our actions. When healthy, a blissful shadow of the life to come. Great posts, friend!

Monday, March 26, 2007 8:46:00 AM  
Blogger treeinforest said...

Point well taken. I actually considered using a word like duty, or even labor. In the end, I stuck with the word from the original quote. It seemed to "work" better than the other two...

Semantics and context...that could be a fun topic.

Monday, March 26, 2007 8:55:00 AM  

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