Then the eyes of [Adam and Eve] were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. (Genesis 3:7)
Last week, I asked you this: What is the work beneath your work? In other words, why are you working so hard?
Over the next three weeks, we’ll explore three of the most common answers to that question. And while this will be far from an exhaustive list, I’m confident it will be a helpful one.
Here’s the first: Performance, or using your work to earn the respect, love, and acceptance of others.
For the first few years of my career, this was the primary work beneath my work. I wasn’t working primarily for the glory of God and the good of others. I was working to impress you.
And so I would not-so-subtly name-drop big brands I had worked for and impressive people I knew—not to facilitate great conversation, but to make you think I had the most impressive LinkedIn profile in the room.
Why did I do this? Why do you? For the same reason Adam and Eve sewed fig leaves for themselves in Genesis 3: to cover up the fact that underneath it all, we’re not OK.
Of course, we don’t cover ourselves with literal fig leafs today, but we do with metaphorical ones to be sure. And because professional performance produces one of the thickest fig leaves of our modern era, we can work ourselves to the point of burnout, not because we need to financially, but because we need to spiritually.
This work beneath our work of performance is laid bare in Taylor Swift’s autobiographical song Mastermind. She writes:
No one wanted to play with me as a little kid
So I've been scheming like a criminal ever since
To make them love me and make it seem effortless
Why are Taylor, you, and me working so hard? To perform. To “make them love” us.
What can free us from this exhausting work beneath our work? Christ alone.
1 John 3:1 says that Christians are to be “called children of God…that is what we are!” Through Christ, I am an adopted child of God. A co-heir with Christ (see Romans 8:17). No amount of professional success will ever give me a loftier title than that!
It is meditation on that truth that God has used to slowly but surely free me from the work beneath my work. The same will be true for you.
But maybe the work beneath your work isn’t performance. Maybe it’s avoidance. It is to that work that we turn to next week.