A few weeks ago, I began a multiple part essay on the topic of work. I began with The Origin of Work. You can read that essay here. Today, I want to continue with the topic of work, and address the question, What is work? As soon as I write these words, I can hear two of my elders and a familiar quotation from each of them.
The first person is my mother, and she would sometimes say, “A man will work from sun to sun, but a woman’s work is never done.” I don’t recall the exact circumstance of her saying that, but I suspect it was out of frustration.
The second person is anonymous. That is, I don’t know if I’ve ever heard anyone actually say this, and if I did, whether or not I was the object of the scorn. Regardless, I can just imagine a wizened old man shaking his head and saying, “Ya hear that, Emma? The youngin’ doesn’t know what work is.”
Having said that, I want to preface that by talking about What work is not. I appreciated this quote from William Least Heat Moon’s book, Blue Highways, a book I am currently reading, and a book I quoted a few weeks ago. The author quotes an elderly man he met in California:
“I’ve gone unpaid my share and I’ve pulled my share of pay. But that’s got nothing to do with working. A man’s work is doing what he’s supposed to do…”
So, in the line of thinking I’m trying to carry forward here, work is not dependent upon pay. Often, we (at least I) have thought of work in this way, and, in fact, I commonly say, “When I get off work today, I’ll go do thus and such, and I’ll pick up the chicken food (or whatever)”. We might also say, “Where do you work?” We mean, most of the time, what entity (your own business or that of another) supplies the person with reasonable, or even a pittance of compensation. Also when we ask this question, what interest we truly have is focused on the type of work, such as sales or engineering or gardening, and some of that interest is an attempt at establishing a commonality with this other person.
I’d like to return, in a subsequent post, to the question of “what he’s supposed to do”, but for the moment, I’d also like to offer the following link, below, to an audio recording of Pastor Ryan Martin as he preached on the Eighth Commandment. As you may be aware, the Eighth Commandment of the Ten Commandments (or the Ten Words) of the Mosaic Law given by God is “Steal No More” (or “Thou Shalt Not Steal”, for a more traditional sounding version). I know this sounds obvious, but another negative definition of Work is, “Work is not Stealing”. (Or, at least, shouldn’t be stealing). And, by the way, I offer this link to the First Baptist Church website with the note that this is used by permission. The reason I offer this audio is in the context of Ephesians 4:28 (ESV)
“Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.”
When I say that “work ought not to involve stealing”, I am pointing to this verse that urges work as a preventative measure against stealing. When we stop doing something wrong, it is necessary to fill the void with something good. On this point, I’d like to expand on the phrase “doing honest work with his own hands”, but will leave that to another post where it fits in more logically, in my mind.