Thursday, August 29, 2013
Why We Work
I have a friend that has a big garden. He doesn't have enough land of his own, so he shares the land of another. He drives 25 minutes multiple times a week to till, plant, nurture, and harvest two massive garden plots. He cans and jars food to preserve his family through the winter. Yet, he purposefully doesn't use all of the crops that he grows. He invites others to come and harvest. When he was on vacation, he invited our family and others to visit the garden and take all that what we wanted. This, after he had recently taken a truckload of harvest to a friend who couldn't get to the garden in time to pick. He could sell these excess crops at market or on a roadside stand, however he chooses to invite others into his abundance, the harvest always a reflection of God's growing new life from dark spaces.
I know of a local man who opens his medical practice one evening a week to serve those who cannot afford to pay for medical services. My friend coordinates with other medical professionals to offer an array of opportunities for those without to come and be made well. To assign a dollar value to the time invested by these three medical professionals and to the opportunity cost of the practice being open to patients who cannot afford to pay is significant. Instead, they're leveraging their gifts and blessings of talent to the sick and broken - and, aren't we all sick and broken in our distinct ways; limping about, always seeking the One who can make us well in spite of our inability to pay?
My colleague told me a story of a local businessman who shut down his home improvement service for three weeks this summer to lead a landscaping initiative at a newly constructed church. The man works tirelessly at his business with the goal of getting ahead - not to keep up with the Jones' but to get ahead enough so that he can stop and give it back or pay it forward. He works to generate revenue so that the margin can spill out all around him blessing others in countless ways - from landscaping churches to volunteering his musical talents at youth events.
There was a wise old man sitting in a pub. My friend talked to the old man about being stuck in getting his innovative, transformational nonprofit off the ground. The old man said that my friend should create a path to get there. He said that he might consider leveraging what skills and opportunities that he has to generate income to provide for his short-term while developing reserves to fund the nonprofit initiative. Said differently, to do the work of today in order to create opportunities for tomorrow. My friend rerouted his life course and now focuses his efforts on sacrificially supporting, equipping, and encouraging others to live lives more fully and purposefully. Both the old man and the friend are using their resources to change the world through imparting their wisdom and experience with others. They're mentoring, as they've been mentored.
This may sound like the "pull yourself up from the bootstraps" mantra that is often idealized and rarely entirely true (particularly the idea that this type of success occurs only from individual striving). It's not. Each of these stories represent great, life-changing, world-improving, community-building initiatives that might crumble under the weight of unrealized ideals and end in a smoldering pile of burnout if they are put forth in prideful isolation or with selfish motivations. Dramatically, these stories are being written in a different way. These folks are not creating change on only the merits of their own efforts. They are looking around their unique worlds for the blessings and opportunities that God has placed before them. They are seizing opportunities, plowing through fear, working large while remaining small - humbled to be a part of a supernatural story of which they only catch glimpses. They're opening themselves up to the infinite possibilities of what God might do with our work when it's surrendered to something bigger than ourselves.
In a historic letter that we call the book of Ephesians, the apostle Paul wrote that, "[instead of stealing, they] must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need." The theme of sharing evolves throughout the Bible from sharing our excess to sacrificially giving and always looking to intentionally love and serve those living in the margins of society. This is why we work.
I am thankful for the friend who shares his garden that others might benefit from his harvest. I am thankful for the medial professional who works to share his practice with those who have not. I am thankful for the businessman who forgoes three weeks of additional profit to support his church. I am thankful for the old man in the pub who shares his wisdom. I am thankful for the friend who puts his own nonprofit on hold to help other leaders succeed in their respective organizations. And, I'm thankful for a God who puts these amazing, inspiring people in my path that I might aspire to be used by God as they are - leveraging my blessed opportunities to share His love and grace with the world.