Genesis 2:4-6 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made earth and heaven. Now no shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the Lord God had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground. 6 But a mist used to rise from the earth and water the whole surface of the ground.
Here is the “domestic” version of the creation account with plants that need cultivating and animals that need naming (in a few verses). Paradise was not a land of ease in which the first couple lay in hammocks and wandered around plucking fruit to eat. For all its vaunted pleasure, doing nothing turns boring pretty quickly. The land needed them to work it, planting seeds and pulling weeds. There were no bread trees laden with baked goods. We wrongly associate labor with the curse, but Adam and Eve were farmers while still in paradise. They were “mini-me” children given their own plot of land to bring to life just as their Maker had done, the adult version of Lego-play. Work was designed for our joy, not our punishment, to give scope to our creativity, pleasure in our developing skills, and delight in the results of our own efforts. It only turned sour when it became a survival necessity full of thorns and backache, of stressful interactions and pinched wages.
“Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” is great advice for those few who can pull it off, but society can only support a certain number of singers, writers, and basketball players. Everyone else will have to settle for roles as garbage collectors, mechanics, and store clerks, working with difficult people for little pay and recognition. Even the jobs we expect to enjoy often end up being more taxing than fulfilling with harsh bosses, burdensome paperwork, and long hours. This is no longer paradise for anyone. It seems that much in life once designed as an easy joy is now an obstacle to joy, is rather a challenging “growth opportunity.” Everything was tainted when we chose to follow our own path out of Eden, and working ourselves back to a good place is a constant battle against the forces that surround us.
If our occupation is distasteful, how do we make this primary life investment fruitful again? Perhaps we can see work not as the art we are creating, but as the canvas on which we shape our art. It seems my life purpose is the same in every context including work: to slowly become the beautiful person God designed me to be and to generously offer this gift of myself to those around me in mutual blessing. Some jobs actively hinder this process, sucking the life right out of us, but most occupations, hard as they may be in some respects, are a prime ground for growing into our true selves and into genuine relationships. The hard knocks become the steps by which we ascend into the glory of God. We are not bagging groceries or sweeping sidewalks, but bringing the kingdom of God to earth with each kind word and willing hand.
Father, I so often get beguiled into seeing success as the world sees it and evaluating myself on the wrong scale. Remind me today that my goal has little to do with income and promotions and is rather measured by how clearly I reflect your goodness to those around me.