In the evenings, my husband and I usually watch TV shows together. We’ve gone through “The Office” a few times; we’ve watched lots of “Star Trek”;
we I watched “Anne With an E” (my husband distracted himself with his phone during this one); we’ve watched all of “This is Us”; and recently, we attempted “Grey’s Anatomy” but gave up on it when we got tired of fast-forwarding nearly entire episodes to avoid the sexual content. Anyway, the show we are watching now is “The Chosen.” You may have heard of it – it tells the story of Jesus from the perspective of surrounding characters. It preserves the biblical account, but with lots of artistic imagination about how the events may have interacted and worked themselves out. One thing I love about the show is how it reminds me that the people of the Bible were real people. They joked around; they got into trouble. Jesus camped. (For some reason, that’s something I hadn’t thought of before.) You know all that time He spent travelling, or in the wilderness? Don’t you think He would have set up a tent and made a fire?
In an episode we watched recently, Jesus is on one such “camping” excursion, when He is discovered by a group of children, who (quite expectedly) cannot keep themselves away from this fascinating, funny, kind, and wise man. As they gather around Him, chatting and listening to His words, He gets them to help with His work. He is making things out of wood – spoons, locks, toys, and who knows what – and they help with whatever menial tasks they can do. He explains to them that He has a “trade,” but He also has a job much bigger than His trade. He doesn’t really say what it is, but we now know that He became the sacrifice to pay for all sin. So that God can be reconciled to humans, so that we can be part of His family. That was His over-arching purpose.
Nonetheless, I was perplexed at how happily and busily Jesus and the children worked with their hands, while discussing all sorts of other things. It got me thinking about this idea of a “trade,” one’s “work,” and how it relates to one’s overall “purpose.” It is something that has always been of dear importance to me, since I was a child, and was one of the most troubling things about making the decision to stay home with my kids. What is my trade? What is my purpose? There was a time when I thought the answer to both of those questions was “music therapy.” Now, I usually don’t know what to think.
Ecclesiastes is one of my favorite books of the Bible. Maybe, because it discusses in depth these very same issues. So I went back to re-read it this morning, and the following two verses stopped me:
“My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.”Ecclesiastes 2:10-11 NIV
In these verses, Solomon says that all of his work – though it felt rewarding for him to do – was meaningless, and nothing was gained by it. I’m sure we have all, at some point, reached the end of a long work day and thought something similar. Perhaps this realization is even more distressing when we’re under the belief that work is the main part of life. Which is what I thought for a long time, until having children taught me the opposite. Because if my kids are not distracting me from the work I think I should be doing, they are creating all kinds of additional work that I didn’t originally want. And yet, they, and all of my time that they use up, are of immense importance. I know it in my bones.
Because although my trade may be homemaking, writing, music therapy, or teaching piano; I also have a job – a mission, if you will – that is much larger. It’s simple, because it’s the same one Jesus had; the same one we’re all supposed to have. Like Jesus, my over-arching purpose is family. My own nuclear family, and the wider family of God. To love them; to serve them; to figure out how to be (and stay) in healthy relationships with them. This must be why Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40 NIV).
But what of the “trade”? Is it unimportant or bad? If it were, why would Jesus have worked as a carpenter? Why would Paul have made tents?
We need our trade. Work is a basic human need, right up there alongside food, which is why I think Paul cautioned that “[t]he one who is unwilling to work shall not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10 NIV).
In light of all of this, here are the observations that I glean about the nature of our “trade” during our lives here on earth:
- My trade is not the main part of my life. Without an over-arching purpose to go along with it, the work of my trade is meaningless.
- My trade is still important. It is a gift of God, and a privilege by His grace, to fill my basic human needs. It is also rewarding, in and of itself.
- My trade is enough. I doubt that, as Jesus worked as a carpenter, He beat Himself up about why He wasn’t building something larger or more important. I doubt that either He or Paul lamented having to work with their hands when they were actually gifted teachers. “All in good time,” as they say, or, more accurately – “All in God’s time.” We absolutely will fulfill our over-arching purpose in our lifetime, if only our hearts are willing. The results, however, are up to God.
Lord Jesus, I am so sorry for getting this whole idea of work wrong. I love that you have given me both a trade, and an over-arching purpose, and I thank you for them both. I ask that you would enable me to be both content with, and dedicated to, the things that you have given me to do. May I not become lazy or negative, in neglect of my trade. And, may I not neglect my true purpose, which is family – both mine and yours – in favor of my trade. Amen.
How do you understand the nature of work, trade, and/or purpose? I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below.