Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Balance In Work

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     How many stories or words of wisdom regarding work have been written? There are accounts which emphasize work and there are those that speak otherwise. So, which is the best path to follow? In the Bible, there are a few passages which demonstrate these varying perspectives on the subject.

     Perhaps the most referenced passage women look to for guidance is Proverbs 31. This passage describes the characteristics of a “noble” or “ideal” woman. Verse after verse tells of her extensive activities. Simply reading over the listing is exhausting!  I immediately feel inadequate for reaching this level of work. Is this woman ever lacking or restful? It’s like she’s not human! And that’s because she isn’t and actually never was.

     While valuable in its wisdom, Proverbs 31 was not a command to Christians. In fact, it was an oracle from King Lemuel’s mother. In other words, it’s her opinion. Let’s imagine for a moment that a group of women with sons were gathered together and asked what they would wish in a wife for their sons. The result would be a different set of characteristics from each woman. These qualities would be in part based on her personality and experiences as well as her ideal for life. Again, varying opinions on what constitutes “noble” or “ideal” womanhood.
      I find that the “proverbs 31 woman” is not the one deserving of my idealization because very quickly it can become idolization of an unworthy entity. The Proverbs 31 woman was not the one who said, “Come and follow me.” As a Christian, I’m a follower of Christ first and foremost. Does He require me to mold into this one set of standards in order for me to become an ideal woman? Or, does he have an ideal that is unique to his creation? By looking to and following Christ, He grows me to become the ideal version of myself for the purpose of serving and glorifying Him in my own unique way. 
     The account of the Proverbs 31 woman seems to emphasize constant hard work. Another passage in the Bible seems to suggest the converse. Ecclesiastes 2 can be summed up in one word- “meaningless.” Indeed, work in this passage is deemed “meaningless” and a “chasing after the wind.” The author (probably King Solomon) considers the lingering effect his work would have depending on the wisdom or foolishness of the inheritor. A foolish individual could waste away the progress made, and render the previous work futile. Thus, work is labeled as meaningless. Yet, one must work in life to some degree. King Solomon then provides a solution of satisfaction. In verse 24 and 25 he says, “a man can do nothing better than eat and drink and be satisfied in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, 25 for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?”  He continues by saying, “To the man who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind (vs. 26).” I understand this message to mean to find satisfaction in God’s provision, and to strive after anymore than that is …well, meaningless. Work hard and be content with what is provided.
     Finally, the story of Mary and Martha is perhaps one of the greatest perspectives on work. Luke 10:38-42 records the account:
38“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha  opened her home to him. 39She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’
41‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things 42but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’ “
 Initially, my response is to join Martha in a cry of unfairness. There is a greater message here though, has nothing to do with fairness. It has everything to do with the focus of the heart. Martha is described as being “distracted by” and not “busy with” all the preparations. The wording seems to suggest that her attention should be elsewhere as well. In Jesus’ response, he says that Mary had chosen something “better.” It would seem that Martha is doing plenty, and yet, she apparently is still lacking in some regard. In consideration of how many preparations she was likely handling, how could she possibly be expected to do more?     
      The difference may lie in the classic want-versus-need balance. Jesus says, “one thing is needed” (emphasis mine). I can easily relate to this idea. How often does my “To Do” list grow unnecessarily to the point of distracting me from greater places for my attention? What I want to accomplish may not necessarily be what I need to do. Furthermore, Jesus isn’t asking for her to do more for Him in regard to her work. The relationship Jesus offers is less about work and more about the heart. While Martha’s efforts were noble, she missed Jesus’ presence. How often do I rush through the day to check off my to-do list and miss God’s presence in my life? This may mean skipping quiet time but God isn’t present just in my designated devotional time. He’s also present in the ordinary moments such as meal preparations.
      In conclusion, work in life is a matter of balance. This balance isn’t a fixation on one set of ideal set of standards. It is a satisfaction in God’s provision. It’s also attentiveness and focus set in the proper places. To attempt to work 24/7 or measure up to one set of ideal standards will only lead to exhaustion, frustration, and discouragement. It’s okay to not feel like you need to be Wonder Woman or save the world all the time. Even God rested after six days of work! God’s love and presence isn’t going to decrease (and neither should your husband’s).
     With this said, we’re always working towards something. The job, however, may look different than our presumptions of what constitutes as work. For instance, relationships are always in a state of work. My effort towards my relationships may not necessarily be something I do for someone but the attention I give him/her. When my husband and I are together, we strive to put aside our individual pursuits or work to focus on each other. Our relationship has grown tremendously because we never stopped putting work into it. I can only imagine the message I’d be sending if I disregarded my husband’s presence after his day at work in order to focus on my work or housework. If you have children, then consider the message that is sent when you repetitively say, “Go play. I’m busy.” What about when the home is opened in hospitality. My guests and I would miss out on our relationship if I were to exclude myself to wash dishes or other cleanup work. Those tasks are distracters that can wait until the guests leave.  There is plenty of work to be done without pressure or guilt for not saving the world or working 24/7! Sometimes the greatest work is simply surrendering our hearts and attention.

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  1. Lots of points to ponder in your post...

    You caught me when you referred to a group of mothers with sons - and what kind of list each of them would make for a wife for their son. (I'm the mom of a son - this hits home.)

    We're the Bride for God's Son... has He sat and written a unique list - unique for each of us - to "become" as His Son's Bride? I'm sure there are qualities that appear on all of our lists (faith, hope, love etc.) - but your points about work are something to chew on.

    Thank you for a very thoughtful and powerful post. Lots to think about.

  2. What great insight that the Lord gave you on this! I never gave much thought to the Proverbs 31 woman being "ideal," and I was so reminded that we can rush, rush, rush and totally miss God's presence, the thing that gives us life now and eternally! (Like Martha did...)

  3. Thank you for writing this. I really didn't know where the description of the Proverbs 31 woman came from, and it makes a lot more sense now.


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