Sunday, October 12, 2014

What sort of work we should be about

I remember watching one of those fun reality TV shows in which modern contestants attempt to live the same way as those of bygone eras. Two young men in their early twenties stick in my memory. One was given the role of a servant in the Victorian era, while the other got to be a wealthy squire's son. You'd assume his would be the better part to play, but the reactions of both toward the end of the first day were very revealing, because they were identical. Both were struggling to hold back tears of frustration, declaring that they hated living in the ridiculous Victorian era. But they were behaving the same way for opposite reasons.

The servant had been working hard around the estate from the crack of dawn, and he was exhausted. Some of it had been pretty heavy work, but the last straw was when he was asked to clean his master's muddy boots. He'd expected to be allowed to leave the set for the night, and having to do a thorough shoe polish would take more energy than he thought he had left to give.

The squire's son was the owner of the boots. He was pleading, 'Please let me clean my own boots. Let him go to bed. I've done nothing all day but hang around the Manor House, trying to fritter away time, and I'm bored to tears. It would be a welcome relief.'

They were both denied by the directors. 'You signed up to live authentically, and he would have been the one to scrub the boots, not you. Get used to it. Welcome to the Victorian Era.'

Earlier this week, I was thinking how confusing Christians sometimes make the subject of work. We hear some say, 'We're saved by grace, so all we need to do is rest in what Jesus has done on our behalf. We have nothing to prove anymore. We don't need to race around like Martha. Nor do we want to fall into the trap of having to earn approval through our work. It means nothing, because all we need to do is believe.' This is all true and scriptural, but then others add, 'Yeah, but we're supposed to work hard because we are God's hands and feet in the world. He's created good works for us to do. Grace without works is dead. The Bible tells us those who don't work don't eat, and the sluggard is a shameful blot on society. If we just sit there without doing good works, we should be heartily ashamed of ourselves.' Okay, this is scriptural too, but I remember feeling so confused in the past because they seemed such polar opposites. If somebody had asked me, I'd have no idea which of these two apparently contradictory points of view to claim as mine.

 The two lads on the reality TV show make it easier for me to place it in perspective. I think of them as extremes on each end of a spectrum. Neither of them are living the ideal life. The fellow cast as the servant represents the slave mentality. We don't realise that we have been delivered from trying to earn our salvation by obeying all the points of the law, which is impossible. Then we race about getting worn to tears, and still feeling that we fall short. With this mindset, we tend to crumble when somebody suggests that they don't like our work. And we race about, trying to earn approval by pleasing people.

On the other hand, the squire's son discovered that waking up to a clear slate each day, with nothing to do but fill in time while other people do all your work for you, is a poor lifestyle choice too. I believe we are designed by God for meaningful work, not for hanging around always taking and never giving. That's why he was anxious to pounce on any task, such as cleaning the boots, just to have something to do.

I want to try to remind myself that in all I do, I'm not working for validation from humans, but partnering with God. We work for the satisfaction of stretching the bodies and brains that were designed to be used. We don't do it to prove to others or ourselves that we're good people. We do it because God designed us in His own image, which includes His delight in creating things. It's so sad to think of thousands of people working at something which isn't stimulating just for the paycheck at the end. We work because we notice a need, whether it's for people to be helped, stories to be told, or inventions to be introduced, just because we know it's something we can willingly fulfill. We don't respond blindly to guilt trips, doing shoddy jobs because these 'favours' don't utilise our strengths.

My kids are growing so fast, and my eldest is now an adult (they tell me). As I grow older, I'm beginning to realise how valuable each moment of time is. This post is a challenge for us to choose what we know deep down is the right work for us, and ignore the thousands of urgent demands to get sidetracked with busy-work, to earn a smile and a pat on the back. Even when these are great endeavours, each individual has the right to stand back and decide, 'I need to be about my own calling, not his or hers.' So the sort of work we should be about will be different for each of us, but we will know, when we stop to examine the honest place in our hearts.


  1. Good blog, Paula. Yes, it's hard finding the balance between meaningful work and working because we feel we have to and relaxing in our salvation while still doing what God wants us to do in the world. Some day I hope to get it right. :-)

  2. Me too, Lynne. It must be one of the hardest balancing acts, or juggling acts. No wonder life feels like a big circus sometimes.

  3. Yes, we need to be about our own calling and not work for pats on the back. Excellent post!

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