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8/29/12 | 3 comments |
On Labor Day — and the meaning of work
First, consider the dwarves — who in Disney’s “Snow White” have much to teach, marching off to the mines each day singing:
“We work, work, work, work, work, work, work, work, work the whole day through. We dig, dig, dig, dig, dig, dig, dig. That’s what we like to do.”
The dwarves love digging, but they hate housework. Snow White teaches them to love that too, with the wonderful work song, “Just Whistle While You Work.” And her own loving work makes cleaning house a transcendent experience.
We can learn to love work too, heeding the advice of artist Mary Engelbreit, whose happy housewife tangoes — rose in mouth, vacuum in one hand, feather duster in the other — under the banner, “To Be Happy, Don’t Do What You Like, Like What You Do.”
Our culture’s work hierarchy sells us short by sneering at work like “flipping burgers” — which after all, has built good job habits into a million workers — as though we should judge people by what they do rather than how they do it. But I’ve met burger flippers — and cart collectors — who would put many CEOs to shame.
I don’t think God ranks our work at all. I don’t think He values neurosurgeons more than janitors, or airplane pilots more than parking lot attendants, or U. S. Senators over stay-at-home mommies. In fact, judging by what He has told us, those who do the most lowly and unappreciated work probably find greater favor in God’s sight. After all, God has great love for “the least of these.” And no fewer than seven passages, in three of the four Gospels, remind us that the first shall be last — as in Matthew 20:26-28: “Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Does that mean that someone in a high position or with a status-packed job can’t find favor with God? Not at all. It all depends on attitude.
I think of the pediatric surgeon who treated a teeny baby with Down syndrome as if he were a crown prince and his worried parents as if they were all that mattered in his busy day. Only later did we learn that Michael Harrison was famous for his work in pioneering prenatal surgery. To me, he is a living example of the way God intends us to pursue our calling — with humility and grace.
Unfortunately, we don’t see that combination — high status and humility — as often as we should. Which explains why Jesus told His disciples, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” He didn’t say it was impossible, just that it was exceedingly difficult.
My own daily work runs the gamut from cleaning up kids’ messes to writing and teaching other mothers, trying never to forget that both are equally important in God’s eyes — and that cleaning the messes may actually be more important because only God sees it.
Work is a love language — one of the five listed in Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages: quality time, words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service and physical touch. But it’s a love language only if the person working — or serving — has the right heart about what they do.
Or, in the words of Kahlil Gibran, a Lebanese-American Eastern Catholic poet/philosopher/artist, best known for his work The Prophet, from which I’ve drawn this verse:
“Work is love made visible / And if you cannot work with love but only / with distaste, it is better that you should / leave your work and sit at the gate of the / temple and take alms of those who work with joy. / For if you bake bread with indifference / you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half / man's hunger. / And if you grudge the crushing of the / grapes, your grudge distills a poison in the wine.”
I don’t know about you, but I do not want to feed but half man’s hunger, and I’d rather not distill poison in the wine. I want to work because I love — and finally, to learn to love even more because I worked.
Curtis, who blogs at mommylife.net, is a mother of 12 and author from Lovettsville.