Work! Work! Work!

Sometimes we get the order of things mixed up.

Recently someone contended to me that if Adam and Eve had not sinned, then they would have never had children. This seemed to imply that children were a punishment for sinful behavior. While it may seem like that some mornings before school, that would not be accurate.

The fact is that God’s command to Adam and Eve to be “fruitful and multiply” was part of God’s perfect plan before a serpent and piece of fruit contributed to messing things up.

We also misunderstand the role of work in our lives when we get the order of things wrong. It is true that as a consequence for sin, Adam and Eve would suffer the following:

…cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.” Genesis 3

It would be easy to assume that this means work, whether tilling the ground or toiling at a computer screen, is a curse on us fallen human beings.

However, back in Genesis 2, the Bible says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.”

Work is part of God’s perfect creation. And if we really think about it, besides putting food on the table and clothes on our backs, work can and often does have rewards of its own.

Martin Luther understood this when he shook up the understanding of what constitutes vocation (work done for the Lord.)

Theologian Gene Edward Vieth puts it this way:

“When I go into a restaurant, the waitress who brings me my meal, the cook in the back who prepared it, the delivery men, the wholesalers, the workers in the food-processing factories, the butchers, the farmers, the ranchers, and everyone else in the economic food chain are all being used by God to “give me this day my daily bread.” This is the doctrine of vocation. God works through people, in their ordinary stations of life to which He has called them, to care for His creation. In this way, He cares for everyone— Christian and non-Christian—whom He has given life.”

Now my question, put forth frequently in the history of this newsletter, is this. Are we teaching our children that work is torture? That work is punishment? Are we teaching them that the ultimate good is free time and relaxation and work is an unpleasant necessity?

We ask this question when, every day, we educators find ourselves having to cajole some (many?) students to put forth any sort of effort.  We hear the groans and looks of upset when students are told about a learning assignment. We see the minimal effort some put into not just written work, but even class discussions and classroom games that require some thought. We wonder when we are told that we are not entertaining enough; when we are told that students can only be expected to work with diligence (and behave) when they are having fun.

My guess is that you might experience the same at home when a request is made to take out the garbage or feed the dog.

How can we counteract this animosity to work that kids exhibit either by nature or by learning?

I have four suggestions:

  1. Display an attitude toward your own vocation, whether at your place of employment or in the home, that does not demonize work. This would include not contributing to the child’s thought that school is punishment handed down to us from the fall of man.
  2. Give kids lots of chances to truly contribute to the operation of the home through meaningful chores and regularly assigned tasks.
  3. Talk about work in the terms Martin Luther laid out. We are blessing others and carrying out God’s plan for us when we do work to the best of our ability.
  4. Emphasize effort at completing tasks well rather than innate ability. Reward a child for what he or she actually does. Let success lead to more success.

I would love to hear from parents about what they have done to establish into the lives of children the idea that vocation (work) is a calling from God. We can certainly learn from one another.

In His Children’s Service, Robert C. Boyd

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