Posted in Faith, Mental health

Work, Trade, and Purpose

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?

Is this a good mantra for life?

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Prayer:

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.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Poems

A Donkey’s Tale

“Beast of burden” has been my name

My home uncharted, the wild terrain

Sure-footed, though some think me slow

I tread in places they cannot go

And bear their weights upon my back

Sparing strength, where others lack

For the poorer among the nations

The only feasible transportation

From season to season, and place to place

I carry their burdens, and do so with grace.

But all loads are not equal, as you will soon know.

Like that of a woman, some long years ago –

And a boy, in her womb, in the cart behind me

To lighten their journey, the maker assigned me

Into a town, my task to bring

In shrouded form, the highest King.

Her trial to bear, though mine to share

Against the backdrop of poverty, pain,

Oppression, confusion, and fear, he came

Bringing light to the darkest places

The night sky, a manger, forgotten faces

Of blue-collared shepherds, and then the likes

Of me,

Who stomps among the dikes.

For the greatest must be the servant of all,

He said, while breaking his body like bread

And spilling his blood upon the ground

And sifting the earth for those to be found

And taking the sins of the people who slew him

Transforming the lives of all who knew him

Similarities stop, between he and I

At an earlier point, but isn’t it sly…

Of all the beasts of the field, which he owns

He would bring honor to something so low

As a donkey, like me – two times, no less

Once to his birth, and once to his death

I carried the man who died on the wood:

“Beast of burden,” like me. He understood.

Many thanks to The Carillon, my local paper, for putting my poem in print!

For the inspiration behind this poem, please visit my earlier post, “A Beast of Burden.”

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Faith

“A Beast of Burden”

“How are everyone’s devotions going?” I asked a few friends several weeks ago, during one of the precious few in-person meetings we’ve been permitted to have, since…you know.

The room fell silent. Some women looked away. Others slowly shook their heads. I felt bad for asking.

Years ago I heard Joyce Meyer talk about spending daily time with God. With reference to busy mothers, she had asked in her typically pointed way (which I love) – “Well, what can you do? Lock yourself in the bathroom for a few minutes to pray, if you have to.”

This simple statement has motivated me when ‘quiet time’ is virtually impossible. A few months ago, I re-evaluated my devotional plan. At the time, I had been reading through Ezekiel. But when circumstances dictated that both children be home full time, and supervision of school work was added to my list of responsibilities, Ezekiel felt like a little more than I could handle. I wasn’t looking forward to my devotions any longer, and began to avoid doing them.

So I decided to take a break from Ezekiel for a while and go directly to the source: the words of Jesus Himself. I found a long stretch of red letter text in Matthew 5 (the Sermon on the Mount), and began to read it very slowly. I sampled different translations, and found that they added layers of meaning to the text. Since translation is not always a straight-forward process, and words are tied to the history and culture in which they are used, different versions of the Bible can relay varying aspects of what was originally meant.

Recently, I stumbled upon a verse that grabbed me in a new way because of one such alternate wording. In Matthew 21, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem shortly before His death and resurrection (otherwise known as the “Triumphal Entry”) is documented. There, I read a verse that has become quite familiar to me in NIV:

“Say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.'” Matthew 21:5 NIV

However, here it is, in ESV:

“Say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.'” Matthew 21:5 ESV

A beast of burden! The CJB (Complete Jewish Bible) translates it the same way. A quick perusal of Britannica.com informed me that this is a common term of reference for a ‘pack animal.’ Donkeys, in particular, have been used for bearing loads for as long as six thousand years. According to Britannica: “In many places in the world, the use of pack animals is the only feasible means of transporting a load.” Donkeys “are surefooted and can carry heavy loads over rough terrain.” And where horses cannot survive, or people are too impoverished to own them, “donkeys are the main beasts of burden and source of transportation.”

Surefooted. Carrying heavy loads over rough terrain. Able to survive where horses cannot. Available to people who are poor. Transporting from one place to the next.

The only feasible means.

Could there be a better way to describe the Savior Himself?

Jesus’s association with this animal was not a coincidence. He had specifically sent His disciples to fetch the donkey from a complete stranger, knowing in advance that it would be there, thus fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9.

And like the donkey, our Lord is humble and gentle. Like the donkey, He bears the loads that are too heavy for us to carry, and He does so without complaint. Like the donkey, He is essential – especially, to those who are poor.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 5:3 NIV

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

1 Peter 5:7 NIV

I wonder how much easier it would be to spend time with Jesus daily, if we remembered that He is willing and able to bear the heavy loads we carry, over the rough terrain of our lives. That He is the only means of transportation – from one season of life to another, and from this life to the next.

“Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.”

Psalm 68:19 NIV

What burdens can I give to the Lord today?

The burden of worry. That my life, and those of my family members, won’t turn out alright.

The burden of control. He is God. I am not.

The burden of feeling unloved. He made me, and knows and loves every intricacy of my being.

The burden of this day. I am not alone. He is with me in every task. He leads and directs me.

I invite you to spend some time with Jesus, and allow Him to hold your heaviest troubles. Which burdens will you give to Him? If you would like to share about it, comment below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa