Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Everyday Grace:
Work gets no respect

by Mary Cronk Farrell

(From the July 1, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)

Mary Cronk Farrell      Itís the first day of summer and already Iíve ruined it. Yep, ruined the whole summer. At least thatís what my 10-year-old says. I thought I was delivering good news when I told the kids they wouldnít have to do any work today. My job-of-the-day-program would begin tomorrow. With all the wailing, you might have thought I had told them they had to go back to school.
     My kids have regular chores to do, but a number of years ago I started assigning each of them one extra job to do each day during the summer. The work is fairly simple, usually a task that can be completed, with diligence, in half an hour, an hour at the most. In the beginning I insisted they do the jobs right after breakfast, but as they got older I gave them latitude, requiring only that they finish before they ate lunch.
     They complain a lot about the job-of-the-day, but I strongly believe that when children share the work of the household they feel more of a sense of belonging. They also develop skills, gain confidence, learn to manage their time and feel capable.
     Additionally, work has a spiritual dimension. When we work we become co-creators with God in bringing the world to completion. Even small menial tasks help bring about the Kingdom of God, as when a parent sweeps the same kitchen floor day after day. It may seem mindless; it may seem to accomplish little as the floor gets dirty again almost immediately. And yet, this work is important to the orderliness and cleanliness of the family home. Both large and small contributions build the Body of Christ.
     Work often gets no respect in our modern culture. People work for money or profit. They work for the means to do something more fun. Rarely do we find meaning in the work itself, especially menial tasks or manual labor. We work because we have to, not because we find it fulfilling, meaningful or important to the world around us.
     But life is not about sailing by. Life is about dropping anchor, going ashore and leaving a positive mark of our presence. The discipline required to do this does not come without training and practice. The earlier this training and practice begins, the easier it is for us to learn. We owe it to our children to help them see at an early age that work is a necessary and holy part of life.
     I started my young children with simple jobs like washing the lowest windowpanes, sweeping the porch, folding laundry, and unloading plastic cups and bowls from the dishwasher. It often seemed like more effort to supervise the chores than it would have been just to do the work myself. I had to remember the process is as important as the end product.
     As the kids got older I began to appreciate their help with pulling weeds, cleaning the bathrooms, mowing the lawn and doing little jobs Iíd been putting off. One summer my oldest spray-painted the wicker porch furniture, replaced broken drawer pulls on my bureau, and even balanced my checkbook.
     Iíll mention again: the children do complain about having to work. I try to remember itís their job to complain; itís my job to hold firm and be kind. Most recently, one of kids argued, ďWeíre too old for the job-of-the-day.Ē
     I tried not to laugh out loud. Too old to work? Doesnít he realize heís only just begun?
     Having a spiritual sense about work helps us to see that life and work are not separate, but wholly integrated. ďWork is love made visible,Ē said the Persian poet Kahlil Gibran.
     So, I tell myself, I havenít really ruined the whole summer by assigning chores. Iíve merely taken on a most difficult labor myself-trying to raise my children with a sense of what life requires of them, and more importantly, the fulfillment life offers those who experience the satisfaction of a job well done.

© 2004, Mary Cronk Farrell

(Mary Cronk Farrell is a Spokane free-lance and childrenís writer. She is a contributing author to the book Daughters of the Desert: Stories of Remarkable Women from Christian, Jewish and Muslim Traditions, from Skylight Paths Publishing.)

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