Stress and Work: Teachings of Elder Paisios the Athonite
– Geronda, many people return home from work stressed out.
– I suggest to men that if they can, they should find an open church after work, go in, light a candle and stay inside for ten to fifteen minutes. Or go sit in a park somewhere and read a small section of the Gospel, so as to quiet down a bit. Then they can go home in peace, smiling, instead of stressed out and ready to pick a fight. They shouldn’t bring work problems home with them – leave them at the door on the way out.
– But Geronda, some of them are justified, for their work responsibilities fill them with anxiety.
– It fills them with anxiety because they don’t involve God in their dealings. The sluggard who says “O, God will take care of things…” is better off than such people. I’d rather someone be an employee and do his work well, with philotimo, – but simplifying his life, concentrating on the essentials, and quieting his mind – rather than a factory owner and constantly whining and moaning because he is always in debt. Pride gets in and says, “I’ll borrow this amount, I’ll take care of this and that, and tidy things right up…”; but afterward his business fails, he goes bankrupt, and then must sell everything, etc.
Many people don’t use their minds at work. They tire unnecessarily and thus no work gets done. Later they aren’t able to snap out of it and get all stressed out. For example, someone wants to learn a certain trade and, because he doesn’t pay attention, for years he comes and goes, without making any progress, because he never uses his mind. He should observe what his work requires of him and do it. Look, when I worked in the world as a carpenter, I saw that the furniture I made required a lathe. What did I do? Did 1 go find someone to do the work for me? No, I got myself a lathe and learned how to use it. Next, I saw that I needed to make spiral staircases. So I sat down, called to mind the math and geometry I had learned, and figured out how to make them. If you don’t use your mind, you end up working too hard. What I want to emphasize is how one should use his mind, because at work one meets with a whole heap of challenges. In this way he will become a good craftsman; from then on he will know what to do – he will make progress. Therein lies the entire foundation. The mind ought to be creative in all matters. Otherwise, man remains an underachiever and wastes his time.
—Geronda, for someone strained at work, what is to blame?
—Perhaps they don’t approach their work with good thoughts? If they confront it rightly, then whatever job they do will seem like a festival.
—Geronda, when someone is upset because his job is difficult or distasteful, for example, he works construction or washes dishes at a restaurant, how should he find peace?
—If he will remember that Christ washed the feet of His disciples he will quit worrying. It’s as if Christ was saying to us: “You should do likewise.” Whether one is washing dishes or digging ditches, he should rejoice. Another cleans out sewers filled with germs because the poor man doesn’t have any other work. But is he any less of a person? Isn’t he also an image of God? Once there was a family man who cleaned out sewers for a living, and who had attained a great spiritual state. He suffered from pulmonary tuberculosis; and although he had the chance to quit, he didn’t want to, because he thought, “why should someone else have to suffer?” He loved the beggarly life, and for that, God gave him grace.
Work doesn’t make the man. I once knew a longshoreman who had raised the dead. One day, when I was dikaios (the director of a skete who is elected each year by its elders) at the Skete of Iveron, someone who was around 55 years old visited me. He had arrived late in the evening, and slept outside rather than knock and disturb the fathers. When the fathers saw him they brought him inside and informed me. “My goodness,” I told him, “why didn’t you ring the bell so that we could let you in and take care of you?” “What are you saying my father?” he said to me, “How could I disturb the monks?” I noticed that his face had a certain radiance. I understood that he must have lived very spiritually.
Afterward, he explained to me that he had been left a young orphan when his father died; as a result, when he married he greatly loved his father-in-law. At first, he and his wife lived in his in-law’s house but after a time they moved into their own house. But he was constantly worried because his father-in-law swore a lot. He had pleaded with him many times not to swear, but he got even worse. His father-in-law once became seriously ill. They took him to the hospital, but after a few days, he died. The man, however, was not with him at the hour he gave up his soul because he was unloading a ship. When he arrived at the hospital and found him in the morgue, he prayed with great pain: “My God, I beg Thee to resurrect him that he may repent, and then take him.” Immediately the dead man opened his eyes and began moving his hands. As soon as the attendant saw him he fainted. They got his things together and took him home, perfectly well! He lived another five years in repentance and then died. The man said to me, “My father, 1 thank God so much for doing me this favor. Who am I that God would grant me such a gift?” He had great simplicity and such humility that it didn’t even enter his mind that he had raised the dead. Out of his gratitude towards God, he was blind to what he had done.
Many people suffer because they fail to receive recognition through vain, worldly honor, or fail to become rich in pointless, mundane things. It doesn’t occur to them that in the other life—the real life—such stuff is not needed, nor can they take it with them. To that place, we can only take our works, which here and now acquire for us a passport for that great and eternal journey.
Stress and Work: Teachings of Elder Paisios the Athonite