As teachers, we ask a lot of questions. By asking these questions, we find out many things about our students. I often ask my students if they remember when a certain thing happened to them for the first time. When I ask them to remember the first time they met a missionary or the first sermon that they heard a memorable sermon, the class becomes alive because these moments impacted them to a great degree—sometimes positively and sometimes negatively.
During this Labor Day weekend, it is important to remember when our parents or teachers first told us about the importance of work. Our parents tell us and show us that hard work can be rewarding, and it becomes a practice if we start when we are young. Do we remember our parents asking us to move a little faster so that we would arrive on time or the job would be done quicker? My parents were committed to raising hard-working children. We did not need an alarm clock on the farm because the proud rooster did his second duty early in the morning. (Most of you can guess what his first duty was!) One rooster started crowing, and then it seemed like every rooster for miles would join the cacophony to make sure that no one was still in bed sleeping. Very soon the cows made their noise, then the sheep, ducks, geese and the last were the horses. All the animals were awake, and needed to be watered, fed, and have their sleeping quarters cleaned. Sometimes these chores had to be done before we went to work in the fields.
Conversations with my parents about work were very short. When I complained that the work was hard, my mother replied that no one ever died of hard work. I started moving away from her so I wouldn’t get hit with the back of her hand, while replying, “There is the possibility that I will be the first one.”
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As much as I enjoyed life on the farm and although I tell my children that I am a peasant at heart, I never had the desire to stay and live on the farm. I have a great appreciation for the soil and for the famers, but I did not imagine being one. I always liked the academic life, and knew that I would pursue education. Nevertheless, I continued to have great admiration and appreciation for people who work in the fields. In fact, when a colleague complained about a “backbreaking session” at a conference, I unceremoniously replied, “My friend, you have no idea what backbreaking work is. Take a week off and work in the fields and then come and tell me what backbreaking work is.”
Before I became a pastor and a professor, I worked as a truck loader, a furniture inspector, a tank inspector, a chemical mixer in a pharmaceutical factory, and an assembly line worker in a meat factory. I have worked in places where the workers unions were strong, in places where the unions were present and ineffective, and in places where the rights of the workers were not recognized. It is possible to treat employees well in all places of employment, and workers who are treated well are workers who do good work.
On this Labor Day weekend, I want to pause and to give thanks to God for all the people who work. Laziness or sloth is a cardinal sin according to the Catholic Church. If you can work at any type of work, you should enjoy working. It gives you dignity, it gives you pleasure, and it is one of the characteristics of God, who is always at work. The Lord Jesus Christ said, “My Father works and so do I.” (John 5:17)