Should Jesus tarry our works will follow us. God may use, by reason of the wonderful solidarity of His Church, the things that He has wrought in us for the blessing of souls unknown to us. . . . God only knows the endless possibilities that lie folded in each one of us! Parables of the Cross
Labor Day, in essence, is a holiday or day of festivities, held in honor of working people. Ironically, we celebrate “work” by taking a break from the same!
Whether employed in a vocation that offers a rich sense of purpose or engaged in a job solely to provide income, work is a defining aspect of life. It affects how we feel about ourselves and often how others regard us. It determines, in large part, our personal sense of worth – even our very purpose in life.
Lilias, who by virtue of inherited wealth could have lived a life of relative leisure, recognized the inherent importance of work: for the dignity it conferred to the worker through purpose, productivity and self-sufficiency. Both in England and Algeria, she worked to provide meaningful employment as well as improved working conditions for others.
During her young adult years in London, she volunteered time and energy to the fledgling YWCA, helping to set up Institutes for the working-class women, providing housing and food at reasonable rates as well as training in respectable skills for women who had turned to prostitution out of financial desperation. As she came alongside the working-women, she recognized their need for a place to eat lunch, setting up the first public restaurant for women in London. Recently I discovered an advertisement that she placed in woman’s periodical (1886) asking for “books for tired girls” – explaining that they were opening a “little reading-room and library for business girls . . . whose minds are hungry after the day’s mechanical work, but who are too weary to take up a prosy volume.”
Algeria presented new challenges as she discovered the plight of young girls, sold from their father’s harem to be married at the tender ages of eleven and twelve – only to be discarded, in time, for yet younger wives. Concerned with equipping women and girls for independence both economic and spiritual, she engaged the services of a French woman, keeper of an embroidery shop, to instruct them in “girgaffe” – native art of embroidery – to produce articles to be sold in her shop. She brought male workers alongside her vision to teach carpentry to the men and decorative brushwork to the boys. One of her most ambitious projects toward economic independence was the purchase of land for an industrial farm to provide a living for inquirers and converts to Christianity.
She sought to elevate the meaning of work – regardless of income or recognition – writing a booklet for Arab women: Heavenly Light on the Daily Path. (See Unpublished Manuscripts) Here she encouraged women to see the dignity and importance of motherhood and homemaking, relating the chores and duties of a woman’s everyday life, challenging the manner and spirit in which a humble job is performed – even deriving spiritual meaning from those very tasks. By example: “The Lesson of Sweeping.” There are two ways of sweeping – a good way and a bad way. You can tell a clever woman from a foolish idle woman by the way she sweeps her room – contrasting the sensible one (who sweeps the dust into the open and removes it from the room) to the shortcut of the idle one (who sweeps it under the bed!).
Scripture has much to say about work: from the very beginning. First off, God worked. Then He rested. Tim Keller states: “Work was not a necessary evil that came into the picture later or something human beings were created to do but that was beneath the great God himself. No, God worked for the sheer joy of it.” And He intended the same for us. “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10) Work gives us a sense of dignity, purpose, meaning in life. It is, in fact, one of our most importance purposes in life – intended by God and prepared in advance by Him for us. Work, of course, is necessary for our basic survival, sustenance to say nothing of maintenance of what we have been given and/or worked for.
In reality, however, work can be hard or unpleasant, given the nature of the task or the conditions in which we work, whether the physical space or the people inhabiting that space. Even the most rewarding vocation can be frustrating even disappointing – not what we hoped it would be. But it not the nature of the work itself that confers dignity rather but the manner in which we approach it.
Ultimately, any job, task, bit of work – however menial, routine, unpleasant – can be elevated by the spirit in which we perform it. It can be become an act of worship – if done to the glory of God. C. S. Lewis puts it this way: “But the great thing is to cultivate one’s own garden, to do well the job which ones own natural capacities point out (after first doing well whatever the ‘duties one’s station’ impose). Any honest workmanship (whether making stories, shoes, or rabbit-hutches) can be done to the glory of God.”
Labor Day or any day – work or play – let us heed the words of the Apostle Paul: “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)
“Teach me, my God and King,
In all things Thee to see,
And what I do in anything
To do it as for Thee.”