“Our daily labors — be they in the marketplace or home — are opportunities for us to love others through our efforts.” –The Measure of Success
That quote above sparked for me — you know the little lightbulb moments that turn into a whole thought process with a life of their own? That’s what happened for me as I mulled over this idea of work being a way to love others.
The way I see it, there are two purposes for work:
I work for my own joy.
I work to bless and provide for others.
(We see both of these in Creation, which is the prototype of godly work theology in action. And the overarching reason I work is to glorify God!)
But when I look at these purposes, I am reminded that I am to love my neighbor as myself, which means the motivation to bring myself pleasure cannot take precedence over the motivation to bless others. There is a tension there and requires the Holy Spirit to regularly sort through the thoughts and intentions of our inward parts. Why am I doing what I’m doing? Isn’t it amazing how the most mundane of actions can be an opportunity for our hearts to be sifted, sorted, redeemed?
I want to love others — I do! But while I’m called to love like God, I am not, in fact, God. I cannot love perfectly — which means that sometimes the work that needs to be done on behalf of others far overwhelms my ability or capacity. And so I must ask, what will bless most? — not what is easiest, what seems most urgent, or what will bless me, etc.
What will bless most: The needs are endless, always. I am not God and cannot care for all of them for everyone. And so I seek wisdom, motivated by a desire to love others. Sometimes that will mean doing laundry because clean underwear really will bless most, and no amount of “quality time” out with the kids on a new nature trail will make up for the frustration we will experience tomorrow morning. Sometimes it means not doing laundry because although I find the mountain overwhelming, we’re going to be fine and my children and husband need a woman who will stop to just be with them.
Not what is easiest or most urgent: this is something I fall prey to often, as my soul begins to flash error codes all over the place and my instinct is to grab a cloth and start wiping the counters over and over, or sort laundry like a madwoman, or whatever, while all around me a household needs to be managed thoughtfully and prudently. I’m not prompted in those moments by a desire to love others, but rather self-preservation, anxiety, and laziness.
Not what will bless me: I will always enjoy cleaning the kitchen and making dinner more than playing a game. Always! That’s my bent, and we all have our bent that could easily lead us astray when seeking to bless others. My hobby is working, but a hobby of working is not the same as a heart to serve. Of course, here is where the tension comes into play: we work for our own joy, too — God made trillium that only He saw for a very long time — and it’s okay to know enough about our own souls to realize that a game of Uno will be much, much better when the dishwasher is loaded and running… as long as we’re willing to also listen when the Spirit wants to stretch us to switch that order once in awhile! I clean my kitchen counters because my family is served by order and cleanliness — but also the deep “ahhh” in my soul matters!
“Our daily labors — be they in the marketplace or home — are opportunities for us to love others through our efforts.” Whether the labor is operating a furnace that provides glass for millions of people, or hooking up milking machines at 3am to nourish growing children, or schmearing cream cheese all the way to the edge for each customer, or collecting chewed up and spit out cashew bits from under the hearth rug (a completely theoretical example, of course) — our labors become meaningful when we realize that work is simply a means of fulfilling the two Great Commandments. Work is meant to be love in action.
So today, remind yourself, remind your kids: shoveling snow is loving your dad. Making lunch is loving your siblings. Cleaning the bathroom is loving the family. Working hard on your assignment is loving your team and instructor. Work is never just work. Yes, there is futility because of the curse, but it doesn’t have to be meaningless. Take up that dust cloth and see it as a chance to imitate God, to find joy in creating and stewarding, and most of all, to love others.
Sometimes work also means the reward of a burger and fries.
Do you know Richard Wilbur’s poem, “Love Calls us to the Things of This World”? It’s about laundry, but also about how God calls us to work and this is an act of love. I think you’d like it.