Tonight at church we had our three different "Re-Rooting" options to choose from. It's been a hard choice each week. All the topics are interesting. Some are offered twice, so that helps. I often choose based upon if I'm in the mood for a lecture, a discussion or an experiential option. I ended up going to the discussion on the dignity of work tonight. My good friends Pete and Peter were leading. They started with Genesis--with God creating humans in His image and giving them the mandate to fill the earth and have dominion over it. Work is part of who we are and what we created to do. Of course, after the curse of sin, the toil of work was part of the punishment. Work is a gift; toil is the curse.
They read from Ecclesiastes where the writer encourages us to eat drink and enjoy our work. They also referenced the Rule of Benedict where St. Benedict tells about the importance of work. Work is prayer, prayer is work. Everyone had a job and they needed to do it well, as if working unto God. And of course, they touched on Brother Lawrence's Practicing the Presence of God. Brother Lawrence felt that washing dishes was the most important part of his day, for it was there he connected with God. He disliked having to stop to take time out for the offices of prayer.
We didn't have much time, but good discussion followed. It's one of those topics we don't touch on very often, but we could look at for hours. There are days I fail miserably at working well, I will confess.
I believe that work is meant to be a place where we connect with God, serve others and discover ourselves. I find that I work best and get the most out of manual work. I also find that shortcuts--conveniences--take that away. Unfortunately, the conveniences are often needed for getting all the work done in a day. Loading the dishwasher gives me time to spend with the boys or my wife in the evening. Putting clothes in the dryer gives me time to clean the bathroom. Kneading bread in the Kitchen Aide lets me get soup made.
But washing dishes by hand gives me time to reflect and pray. Hanging clothes on the line gets me outside where I can pray for the neighbors. Kneading bread or pizza dough by hand is therapeutic. I think we even miss out by not having to take our rugs outside and beat them with a rug beater; I wonder if our anger levels would be more manageable if we did...Above all else, work is a place where we can meet God.
I believe work has become an issue for us in today's culture because either we're married to our job (and forsake the other parts of our lives like our family--even though we may convince ourselves that we're working for our family's sake) or we try to avoid work at all costs. Our job should be a vocation--a calling. But it is not the end nor beginning of our work. We have work at home. We have work in relationships. Marriage is work. Parenting is work. Friendships are work. Our commitment to a church is work.
Our work becomes overly burdensome because we don't Sabbath well, either. We consider going to church our Sabbath duty. We seldom rest. Not well at least. God gave us the gift of the Sabbath as a change in our week. In order to have a good discussion on the dignity of work, we also need to have a discussion about reclaiming the gift of the Sabbath.
We're in a time when having work means you've got something to be thankful for. But we've all got work to do. We can choose to do it well, honorably and with dignity--as if unto God.