By the Sweat of My Brow: The Blessing of Work.

I grew up on a small farm. It wasn’t much, but it was everything, too. If anything, it was a lot of work. I raised rabbits, pigeons and ducks. We had cows and chickens, too. At one point we raised pigs, three of them. They started out little but weren’t very little for long. I think the pigs were my favorite animals. I know one of my brothers loved our two ponies, Popeye and Tilley. The farm was enjoyable most of the time, but there were some very hot, hazy summer days when I hated the work and the sweat. The grass had to be mowed, animals needed to be fed, and stalls needed to be cleaned out again, and again and again. I didn't realize it then, but we were greatly blessed.

One July 4th weekend we had friends visit from out of town. My Mom had gone through a lot of preparation for a huge food spread – we’re Italian, how can’t you? Our in-ground pool and the weather were absolutely picture perfect. It was everything a July 4th party host could dream of. As friends were scattered about the property enjoying cool drinks and conversations, it was a delightful day with the promise of many joyful memories.

My Mom was the first to hear it. She tilted her head and I saw an expression come across her face that was both horror and uncertainty. She craned her neck further. “Dxxx it!”, she exclaimed as she ran inside the house, the aluminum screen door slamming behind her. I was completely clueless and I tried to hear what had upset her so much. And then, much like with the Grinch on Christmas day, the sound was low and then started to grow. Putt, putt… putt, putt, putt…

So he paused. And the Grinch put his hand to his ear.
And he did hear a sound rising over the snow.
It started in low. Then it started to grow.
— How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Suess

Work is something that we were ordained to do from the beginning of our creation. It’s actually a wonderful, beautiful story and that’s why I want to reflect on it now. Work was always intended to be a blessing as we became participants with the LORD. I like how one Bible translates the Hebrew word, abad. They use the word, “cultivate” but it can also mean to “work”. It also has some darker translations!

The LORD God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed…Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.
— Genesis 2:8, 15 (NAS)

We were created and blessed to be major participants in God’s creation work! He intentionally placed mankind in the middle of paradise for the purpose of enjoying it. This included harvesting its fruit and vegetables for food and serving as caregivers. But then a faint voice arose in the ear of mankind. It started in low. Then it started to grow. It was the voice of doubt and distrust and when it grew loud enough to eclipse the light and love of the Voice of the LORD, darkness overshadowed the heart and soul of mankind and work turned from being a complete joy to being sweat and toil. It turned into labor and we became enslaved (another, darker translation of abad!).

However, because of God’s grace (see my blogs on grace), even in the midst of difficulty, sweat and drudgery, work can still a blessing! Please hear this clearly, work is good and it was, originally, a joy and a blessing and it can still be today. But we have to focus on the right aspect of what it is for. We've drifted greatly from it's original design and it's present-day potential.

Perhaps a graphic illustration will help.

It's a really misguided commercial. There are 19 seconds of the full minute that I agree with but the remaining 41, not so much. The premise is that we work to get stuff. We work to create our own luck. We work to outdo others. We work to create a name for ourselves and to be on top. That’s the sad part of the commercial and it can apply to absolutely any product or service on the market today. We’ve created a “give to get” mentality that sweeps through just about every fiber of our society. We do and therefore we receive. But the initial reason for work wasn’t to receive, but to give and to express love and appreciation for the goodness (grace) lavished on us!

We’ve moved work into the “give-to-get” category and out of the “caretaker” realm and it’s become more tainted than ever for many, many people. Maybe we should be like other countries...? I know my thoughts on this aren’t going to jive with a lot of people. I’m okay with that. I’ve learned, as a lover of Jesus, I’m not supposed to conform to the pattern of this world and I'm in for a fight. In fact, I have to wrestle pretty hard every day to live by a new pattern of grace and unforced rhythms.

As I write this I’m coming to the end of a 3-month sabbatical. And, at the end of this time although I am forever grateful for being granted a time to rest, retool and rejuvenate, I’m starting to become eager to return to work. (There’s a significant difference between “rest” and “sabbath” which I’ll write about soon. I’ve also learned a few things about the “pattern” I referred to. I guess I have a lot of writing to do!)

Now, to finish the story. A tractor was coming down our rural road and my Mom new exactly what that meant and she was furious. As the red beast pulled into view, dark smoke puffing from it’s stack, we all became starkly aware of why my Mom had “flipped out.” In tow was a highly piled, gray wooden wagon nearly overflowing with bails of hay for our cows. We’d expected it to arrive soon but, "at a more convenient time.” You see, there are rarely holidays for real farmers and their work often overflows into the lives of those they serve. As my Mom steamed and the guests gathered, I knew this was not going to be an ordinary July 4th. That’s why it sticks out in my mind to this day.

What happened next was pretty cool, as best as I can remember. Because after my Mom blew smoke and the tractor blew smoke, I don’t remember a whole lot! To my recollection the guests chipped in to unload the barge. We worked together and although tempers were still hot, much like the day, what could have been a laborious nightmare was lighter work with the participation of our community.

So, here’s the point: As you celebrate this July 4th and you return to work next week, or wherever you are when you read  this, may your approach to your work be shaped by God’s original intention and current potential. May you use your work to serve and to express love and appreciation. May it become less of a toilsome, sweaty curse than it has been. Decide to live by a different pattern rather than the one society and advertising throw at you even if it's a fight every day. And, may you be blessed!

Tools. Worn out, rusty tools lay in a pile at our work camp in New Orleans nearly a year after Hurricane Katrina had ripped through the Gulf. The crazy thing about the photo is it was taken on July 4, 2006! I selected it for this piece and checked the date after I edited it! Pretty cool!