Labor is a cornerstone of the human experience. To live is to work. No matter what you do whatever you do can be classified within a category of work. When God created Adam, the first thing that He did was employ him. Work is a definitive part of who we are. When/if you socialize one of the most commonly asked questions is: “what do you do?” – implying an explanation of your occupation.
If you have been a reader of mine for a while, then you know that ‘I do not believe in work’. I used to think work was a bad thing because of its inherent fruitlessness. The Bible in the same story of Adam and Eve says that we [humans] are to eat what we cause the ground to produce, and that it – the ground, will produce thorns (Genesis 3:17-19). To understand the significance of this and why this scarred my view of work for so long, you must appreciate the context of the word “ground” and the implications thereof in the twenty first century.
What does it mean to “work the ground”? Well back when this portion of The Bible was written it would have been used in a literal sense meaning; animal raising and agricultural work. Adam was technically a farmer after all. Today, the “ground” could be the company you work for, the store you work at, or the business you are part of. We all toil in some way to produce, so that we may sustain our individual quality of life.
Imagine quitting your job tomorrow with no back up plan. How are you going to pay your rent/mortgage? What about food? And let’s not overlook your extracurricular activity spending. You may be able to get by a month or two on savings; But what happens on the third month when the well runs dry? Work has woven itself into society in a way that can be burdensome.
This is not a denunciation or repudiation of work. Rather I am setting the record straight by saying, that while I do not approve of all work; work in general, does have redeeming qualities that gives us insight into the human condition.
To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’
“Cursed is the ground because of you;Genesis 3:17-19
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”
The current structure of work is that we do it to survive. If you or I do not work, we do not get paid. If neither of us get paid, then none of our responsibilities get taken care of. And if as humans we do not have responsibilities, then we do not have meaning.
Not to beat the bill analogy to death, but the only reason some people get out of bed in the morning is because they have bills to pay. The work we do produces thorns. What are thorns in the twenty first century? A Netflix subscription. Paying too much for your internet and phone. That shopping spree that you know you did not need to go on. Work breeds responsibility. You will not be [feel] responsible for something you did not work for.
Growing up, when I first started wearing contacts, I would always lose them. Once I started paying for them with my own money however, I made sure to never lose a lens again. I felt responsible for the lenses because, I felt the pain of having to pay for them with the money I just finished earning by selling forty hours of my entire existence to someone.
You see, when you put work in perspective, the act of work is a good thing in and of itself; the problem is the ground. Sometimes where you toil is more important than what you toil for.
To go back to our agricultural example, it is a lot easier to grow crops in nutrient rich soil than it is to do in soil that has lost all of its nutrients. In the same way, it is better for you and I to make sure that we are working ground that is suitable for what we are trying to produce in our lives. Here is a secret that might break your paradigm: work is not just work. What you do [your work], is an extension of who you are.
Show me what you do for a living and I will tell you the kind of person you are. No this does not mean that you have to like your job; you give yourself away by what you tolerate.
The Bible says that what we approve of is approved and what we disapprove of is disapproved (Matthew 18:18). As this relates to our lives – specifically our work lives, you may not like your job, but what you are willing to put up with at your place of work says something about your character.
What this all means is: If your work is unproductive, it is possible that it is because your environment is unproductive. After cursing the ground and telling us to toil over it, God declares that we [humans] will “eat from the fruits of our labor”. Is your labor producing fruit? Is your work yielding you are return, or are you toiling in vain?
Sometimes the ground is just bad. Regardless of the work that you do, it will be arduous, there is no getting around that; but at some point in our lives, we should come to a place of wanting to work smarter not harder. The smarter you work, the harder it will make you want to work. What do I mean? For example, as my writing intellect has grown, the caliber of my written content has grown with it.
There is a degree of confidence associated with smart work that makes you want to produce at an excellent quality level. The easier you can do something, the less someone else will appreciate it. But a smart worker knows, that the ease is in the expertise.
Is the ground that you are toiling over producing good food, or are you constantly growing sour apples? Sometimes it’s not our labor, but rather where we are laboring at. Yes, there will be thorns no matter where you plant: you will not always like your boss, you may not get along with every co-worker, or you could be in on the lower end of a higher income tax bracket.
I stand by my belief that work sucks however, I want us to get that work was designed to produce responsibility. And the way we handle responsibility is in direct relation with our character development. If what you are doing is not doing something for you, then maybe it’s time for you to find some new ground.