My daughter called this week to share her success of the day. One of her goals for the summer is to teach her children how to deep clean and organize age-appropriate areas of the home and garden. Her success? She and her three young children had worked together for four hours and all the kids were actually enjoying the experience. She was doing her best to make it a fun and positive experience…and she wondered if her children even realized that they were “working.” To them it had turned into family-fun time. And what better family time than teaching children the joy and satisfaction that comes from work.
Recently my husband and I watched the movie “Buck,” a true story about a modern-day horse whisperer. During the narration of the movie it is made known to the viewer that Buck had been physically abused repeatedly during his childhood. In the movie he talks about his first experience with his foster parents. The foster mother was loving and kind, but Buck automatically cowered when he met his foster father. This man went out into his pickup truck, took out a pair of leather work gloves and gave them to Buck. From day one Buck treasured those gloves. He and his new foster father worked side by side fixing barbed-wire fence, shoeing horses, and doing other ranch chores. In the narration Buck tells how healing it was. “I didn’t need pity or consoling. The best therapy I could receive was work…and this good man knew that.”
If the entire world could understand the significance of physical labor!
As far back as Eden God understood the blessing of work.
As best we can discern, Adam and Eve lived a life of relative ease in the Garden of Eden. They “dressed” and “kept” it (Genesis 2:15), but it isn’t clear what that entailed since the plants were already flourishing. There were no weeds, and Adam and Eve had no children to prod or cajole into watering or harvesting, if such tasks needed to be done.
When they exercised their agency and partook of the fruit, Adam and Eve left their peaceful, labor-free existence and began one of hard work. Traditionally, many have considered this need to labor as a curse, but a close reading of the account suggests otherwise. God did not curse Adam; He cursed the ground to bring forth thorns and thistles (Genesis 3:18), which in turn forced Adam to labor. And Adam was told, “Cursed shall be the ground for thy sake” (vs. 17, emphasis added). In other words, the hard work of eating one’s bread “by the sweat of thy face” (vs. 19) was meant to be a blessing.
From personal experience I can say that when frustrated, depressed, or discouraged physical work is the best therapy there is. Mindless digging in the garden or scrubbing a floor or washing windows gives me time to think, perspective is achieved, and accomplishment of the task gives me satisfaction that helps elevate my attitude.
This past weekend my adult son and two of his high-school friends met at a cabin with their wives to relax and reminisce. One conversation was a reminder of one friend’s parent’s efforts to instill a strong work ethic. He recalled that he and his brothers would wake up every Saturday morning to be told by their father…”See this pile of dirt? I need it moved.” Or “Do you see this fence? It needs to be painted.” Although it was not appreciated at the time, he expressed his gratitude to a very wise father. These high school friends had all experienced similar “work training” in their youth so they could all relate and laugh about the memories…May I interject: one of these men is a very successful businessman, one is a very successful venture capitalist, and one is a competent and hard-working doctor. Hmmm…I wonder how that happened?
We parents need to understand that good parenting does NOT mean letting our children lead a life of indulgence and ease. What does that teach them?
I’m reminded of the phrase my husband often repeated to our children. “The only time success comes before work is in the dictionary.” And don’t we all want our children to know the joy of success?