This last Sunday I preached a sermon about the theology of work. [in a few days it should be up here to listen to – don’t judge please, I don’t think it was one of my best!] I used Colossians 3:23-25 – in there is the well loved “whatever you do, do it heartily as for the Lord and not for men.” I translated that bit – and said that the literal translation should be something more like “whatever it is that you do, do it from the depths of your soul as if it were for God and not other people.” Using a little bit of poetic license (the bit “depths” isn’t literally there), I think it’s more powerful and more true. God calls us and gives us a vocation (from the Latin “vocare” which means “to call”) – something that He wants us to do.
I said that many people’s calling isn’t necessarily the same as their job that puts food on the table – but in either case we are instructed to do it from the soul; that is, to work hard at it and do our best. Work hard at it – because it matters. Whether you’re a janitor or a CEO or a stay at home mom or dad, or whatever – God wants us to do our best. Do it from our soul.
However, someone pointed out that I had missed a couple of things in my sermon that are very important. I just swept right past them, unfortunately – that is, one of the reasons we aren’t terribly fond of working is that it never seems to be done; you pick up your room and it just gets messy again. Laundry is never finished. The lawn keeps growing. It snows again. There is always another thing to fix on the car. It’s drudgery. It never is done. This is part of the Fall, I believe. God told the Man that he would have pain from his work and the toil would make sweat from his brow. Paraphrased, your work is going to often (if not always!) be repetitive and mindless or seemingly useless. In a more scientific way – entropy always increases unless it is worked upon. I’m not trying to sound flippant, but the fact of the matter is that this side of the End we won’t have completely fulfilling work. I mean, in some way there is always drudgery involved. I love my job – but there are certainly aspects of it that just never seem finished; things I don’t like to do.
I think that is the key – to realize that the drudgery is the same for all of us. We may think that rich or famous people lead lives without drudgery, but I think that is not true – their drudgery is just different I guess. Everyone’s is. I know people who would rather polish and clean every piece of silverware in their house and mine rather than face speaking in front of people – they’d enjoy polishing and run screaming from 10 people trying to listen to them. I’m much more the opposite. I enjoy speaking in front of people (analyze that if you must!), but there are lots of cleaning and organizing things that are absolute drudgery and misery for me. I bet that while I might really enjoy a night on the red carpet and dancing and glamour, many times the same thing is drudgery for a celebrity. “Another event? I have to dress in a fabulous gown – again?!? When will it ever stop!”
Part of the problem we have with repetitive work – whatever it might be – is that we feel it’s not fair. That other people don’t have this. We are better than this act. And it’s just not true. All of us have our own form of drudgery. And we all don’t like it. Brother Lawrence, a 14th century monk wrote a piece that we now call the “the Practice of the Presence of God” where he tells the story how much he HATED working in the kitchens; until he realized that he could enter into God’s presence whenever and whatever he was doing. When you’re doing something you hate – and it’s threatening to overwhelm you with despair – try to talk to Him. You might end up having a good conversation with the One Who IS.
The other thing I missed is that most of us feel deep down like our work isn’t very important – or appreciated. For most of us, I think, this is an aspect of our jobs no matter what they are. Although I’m sure that there are certainly careers and/or jobs – tasks, even – that feel more unimportant than others. Motherhood, for example. Or fatherhood, for that matter. After talking with several stay at home moms over the years, I think that this is possibly one of those that feels unimportant and underappreciated. [At the risk of too much comparison, I think being a pastor is another – although in a very different way!]
Cooking three meals a day and cleaning a house; raising children who don’t pay attention to you and talk over you all the time – not having time to yourself and listening to your peers talk about their day at work and how hard it was to go to that lunch meeting today and have mimosas and salmon…going out with “the girls” and meeting someone new and inevitably hearing “so what do you do?” and feeling that immediate crunch around your heart as you answer “I’m a stay-at-home mom.” Hearing the unspoken “just” before the title as other people say it. Feeling judged by everyone else for NOT being a productive member of society – you’re not really making anything, are you? As Steven Curtis Chapman’s song, Do Everything says “pickin’ up toys on the living room floor for the 15th time today/matchin’ up socks, sweepin’ up socks, cheerios that got away…” It all seems so useless – does it matter at all?
Go listen to that song. I love it – and not only because I like the music. I think he’s right. Sometimes we ALL wonder if what we’re doing matters. It does. God calls us into existence. We bear His image. EVERYTHING we do matters. That sounds so trite -but I think it’s true. To paraphrase another preacher I heard once – the Resurrection screams to the universe that what we do matters. Now that’s a big comparison. Again, I think it’s true.
The things that we do are important. All of them. No matter how small it seems – how meaningless we might think it is, it matters. Sweeping up cheerios that rolled away from your toddler’s grasp matters, for so many reasons. For example – if you leave them there, they are bound to get kicked around and lost and end up attracting little rodents or bugs. If you leave them there, it shows your toddler that cleanliness doesn’t matter – and they don’t worry about it as they get older. It’s the smashed window theory – if you smash one window in a nice neighborhood and DON”T fix it, more windows get smashed and not fixed and it leads to more and more and eventually crime and so on. It might not seem like much – but it matters. [Now, does it matter if you sweep it up RIGHT NOW, or can it wait a bit while you finish playing with your toddler – that’s a different post, but no, take your time….]
C.S. Lewis once said that if we actually saw each other in the splendor of who we really are – we would be strongly tempted to worship other human beings. You – and everyone you have ever or will ever met – are amazing and wonderful and beautiful and worth more than you could possibly imagine. Worth the Life of the 2nd Person of the Trinity. God DIED for you. So yes – what you do matters. Whatever it is that you do.
I’m trying really hard not to sound cliché or trite. But I think that all of this is true. Do I remember it always? No. No I don’t. I wish I did.
Your job matters. I don’t care what it is. I don’t care what you get paid for it. I don’t care if it’s NOT paid. In fact, I would argue that for the most part it is the stuff that we do when we’re NOT being paid that is the most important. No, stay-at-home mom, you might not be the effective CEO or COO of a major international corporation; you may not be a missionary to under-privileged children in Guatemala. No, pastor, you may not be in charge of finding the cure for AIDS or cancer; you may not be using your writing skills to make tons of money and influence millions. No, owner of a small business, you may not be piloting a fighter jet on its way to save thousands of people from the bad guys; you may not be able to donate millions to charity.
But YOU are important. What you do is IMPORTANT. If it wasn’t, why do it? It may feel useless and pointless. Folding laundry feels useless and unimportant. But it’s not. Making your bed in the morning is important – it tells your brain something. Raising children is IMPORTANT!! (I should make that a MUCH bigger font!)
There’s an old saying that has fallen out of vogue in recent years, but I think strongly that it should come back. It comes from a poem by William Ross Wallace. “The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.” Bringing up children is quite possibly one of the most important thing a person can do. I don’t care if you’re the mother or the father – being a parent is hugely important. It’s long range and the little things don’t seem like they make any difference, but life is made up from thousands – millions – of tiny little things that we do.
What we think of as unimportant is so often…hugely so. I used to be a janitor – well, a supervisor of a bunch of janitors, but I did the work too – and I know that some of the people who worked for me thought of themselves as unimportant. That it didn’t really matter if they did a good job or not. It was the places where those people worked and allowed themselves to not care about the quality of their work where I did the most fire control from complaints about lost business (for the businesses we cleaned!). A couple of those people were so convinced they didn’t matter that got depressed because they were “only” a janitor. The pay wasn’t good, the hours were hard. They didn’t like it. But the work they did mattered to other people – the ones who came into the banks and found dirty bathrooms and junk all over the floor or the ones that came in and found nice clean bathrooms and dusted desks. It matters to someone.
No matter what you do – it matters to someone. Even if they don’t know it yet.
And more importantly, it matters to God. Because He loves you. I am firmly convinced that the Lord God Almighty, Creator and Ruler of the Universe, the One who is and was and will be – has a REALLY REALLY big refrigerator and hangs up snapshots of all the stuff we do. All of us. He’s proud of who you are – He made you! And He’s proud of what you do.
Whatever it is.