Episode 42: Labor Day

Why spend your money on that which is not bread; and your labor on what does not matter? So reads Proverbs 55:2

The mass of humanity live lives of quiet desperation. So wrote Henry David Thoreau.

Shakespeare wrote of Love’s Labor Lost; but for many we could be writing about labor’s love lost.

I consider myself to be very fortunate. I love what I do.  I derive great joy and satisfaction doing it – every day. I work very hard, and give myself fully to what I do because I believe it matters. I have the joy believing that I contribute to something that makes a difference.

I used to work with a contractor in my younger days. Having graduated with a degree in Aristotelian/Thomistic Philosophy, I scratched my head for a while and asked who was hiring. Turns out there was a paint brush with my name on it waiting for me.

For about three years, I painted houses. I came home exhausted each day, covered with paint splatters. The thing I loved most about doing that was I could look at what I had done at the end of a day and see something that was different; better. Clients were grateful for the skill I applied to my labor – and they paid me for it.

I recently met a woman who worked as a travel agent. She felt like what she was doing didn’t really matter. I told her to think about it for a minute. She arranges for strangers to have their dreams come true. She makes it possible for families, friends, couples to plan events they spend months dreaming about and their lifetime telling stories about. The more she thought about it, the more it dawned on her that her vocation was to bring joy to people’s lives.

My mom raised seven kids. I watched her through the years. There was wash day – well, with 9 people in the house there were wash days. She would spend hours every day preparing these lavish meals that we would share at the table together every night. My Dad always worked two jobs – but he came home to eat dinner with us between his day job and his night job. The two of them made a home for us, and gave all seven of us a foundation upon which to build our own lives.

There is something noble about our labor. We don’t always get thanked for it. We don’t always see what difference was made through our exhaustive efforts.

My father taught me a thousand times over that whatever I do, do it with pride. If it is worth doing, do it well. I have worked at some of the most mundane tasks imaginable. I once carried buckets of water to care for newly planted trees for 8 hours a day. I spent one summer swinging a sickle cutting down weeds in a cemetery. I spent another summer painting 39 flights of concrete steps in the utility stairwell of a large hotel. I spent a year in a credit card office alphabetizing applications and putting them in large filing cabinets.

In the end, our labor matters. Even the dreary, mind-numbing tasks pay bills and feed families. Our minds, our bodies, and our spirits are gifts given with which we do what we can to make our contributions to the world and to secure our place in it.

I pray that whatever you are called to do, you do it with a sense of pride and purpose. May you find joy and satisfaction in what you do. Be not among those who lives are plagued with quiet desperation. Spend your money on that which is bread and your labor on that which matters. Work hard, and play hard. May you discover along the way a sense of purpose and mission as you journey Into the Mystic. 

Categories: Column Into the Mystic

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