Celebrating the Gift of Work | Michele Morin
Stuffing a ratty T-shirt into the washer’s maw, I try not to think about the fact that it was only yesterday that I hung this very same T-shirt on the clothesline. The steady thrum of activity is the rhythm that binds a home together, and one of the most startling discoveries of my life has been that it is possible to find a fulfilled and meaningful existence in the midst of mind-numbing routine. Careening into this second half of my life, I know full well that it’s not what you’re doing that makes a life. It’s why you’re doing it. My labors of love are a fulfillment of God’s great commandment to love God and to love my neighbors (Luke 10:27).
To love is to labor, and for the believer, there is an inseparable connection between the routines of domesticity and the quotidian mysteries of spiritual practice. Just as the swiping of crumbs off the dining room table will never be a once-and-done affair (at least at my house), neither are the practices of spiritual formation. In tending to the health and wholeness of our souls, every day there will be “crumbs” that need brushing away. This is a good thing, for it keeps us mindful of our dependence on God.
As believers, we are fond of tracing the repetitive nature of our daily work back to the fall. “Pull a weed and three grow back in its place,” we lament. “That’s life on a fallen planet.” Yet a careful reading of Genesis 1 and 2 reveals that work, specifically the “tending and keeping” of a garden, was part of God’s good plan for humanity from the outset. Adam and Eve were God’s appointed co-laborers. As bearers of God’s image, I am never more like God than when I am faithfully engaged in the work that keeps my family fed, clothed, and in the right location at the right time.
Therefore, all the mundane tasks that are stuck on replay in this mothering life have meaning. In our ordinary chores and in the act of corralling chaos into order, we image God. Organizing a cluttered closet, sanitizing a dirty high chair tray, distributing clean and folded laundry to the four corners of the house—these are all as quietly mundane as the work of God. In our time, his watering of trees with rain, or in history, his arranging for the Exodus 16 manna that faithfully fed a generation of Isrealites.
God, the first worker, made himself vulnerable to ten thousand inconveniences when he hunkered down in the dust on the sixth day and breathed life into the nostrils of his first co-laborer. Given the simple job description of tending and keeping, Adam and Eve didn’t waste much time in veering off course and setting their own wayward agenda. That’s where I find myself some days in my own tending and keeping life—a rebel in the garden. Thanks be to God, I am continuing to learn that the sometimes inconvenient practices of housekeeping draw us, his children, into a uniquely hands-on love. Mercy, justice, and sandwich-making hold equal real estate in the values system of heaven, for the God who works and has worked on our behalf invites us to join him in The Great Work:
“Let your work appear to your servants, And your majesty to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us; And confirm for us the work of our hands; Yes, confirm the work of our hands” (Psalm 90:16-17).
Rolling up my sleeves for the good of others is one way for me to model the giving life to my children and grandchildren. Like all the lessons of spiritual formation, the beauty of sacrifice and the joy of giving are better caught than taught. When we bring our day to a screeching halt to read a story to a toddler or to transport an elderly parent to an appointment, we are elevating the work of housekeeping. Pouring juice and applying Band-Aids is real spiritual work. The smallest of tasks becomes a work performed for the greatest worship of God.
A few years ago, I began guarding my time alone in the car as an opportunity for focused prayer for each of my children and grandchildren. Since they are all priceless to me, my deepest desire is for their greatest good: wise decisions, satisfying relationships, holiness and helpfulness. However, time-bound and short of sight, do I really know what’s best? Saying their names out loud to God in the quiet, listening for his loving instructions, I am learning how to pray for their good—unselfishly, untainted by my own plans and designs. Prayer is the unsung and unseen spiritual discipline in which we offer up our time, energy, and attention, carrying our loved ones to God in moments that only God sees and hears. It’s the most important and impactful gift of work we can offer to our families.
Mired in the here and now, it’s easy for me to forget that the work of home is the work of spreading God’s glory throughout the world. By entering into the reality of that today, we leave a mark on those we serve. We prepare our hearts for a future of greater work when we will discover, to our joy, that there has never been a mundane task without purpose in God’s incredible universe in which nothing goes to waste. Every little task, every intentional act of service points back to the God who made us. It is he who has invited us into the work of generosity, welcome, and provision—the gift we give to those we love.