Labor Day

In the US, we celebrate work with a holiday, a day off for many workers.

We call it Labor Day.

According to wiki and the U.S. government page on this, labor unions spearheaded the creation of Labor  Day as a way to celebrate the hard work of carpenters, machinists, and other laborers who helped build America.

The industrial revolution needed a holiday to celebrate work!! At times it was creating more oppression than the good it was accomplishing.

For Adventists, the Sabbath remains a type of Labor Day and a way to keep work inspiring and joyful rather than oppressive.

Exodus 20 wedges labor clearly into the the Sabbath command  “six days you will labor….but”

Labor is essential for our human development.

As one site noted, “Honest toil, done in a joyful spirit, is like a prayer to God.”

The connection between labor and spirituality is strong in scripture and crucial for our relationship to God and others. I have been encouraged by the daily blog of the Institute of Faith, Work and Economics to better see these connetions.

There will always be a tension between freedom and work, rest and labor, and between those who work and those who want the work done.

Wiki notes, “by a resolution of the American Federation of Labor convention of 1909, the Sunday preceding Labor Day was adopted as Labor Sunday and dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.”

Here lies a balancing act. Workers and owners, merit and generosity, and wage tensions all require a Sabbath reboot…but alas few take such a rest.

Meaningful work requires meaningful rest. I see five ways to framing a good work. Three of them come from Daniel Pink’s Drive. Modern workers needs three engines to drive their labor:

  1. Purposeful or meaningful work (significance)
  2. Autonomy—ability to make decisions and choices about their work. Control some directions.
  3. Mastery—a potential for mastery, high level of accomplishment and skill development.

Good work emerges as we work out these goals.I believe Sabbath can add two powerful roles4. Celebration5. Community

Pausing to celebrate work oddly stops work, and thus by celebrating we prevent work from becoming a god over us. It keeps us from mindlessness.

Pausing to celebrate also brings us back into a different type of community–owners and workers, rich and poor, come back to their common humanity. Plus, we don’t feel alone–laboring for our survival. We have each other.

We don’t work alone is the cry of the Sabbath. God is with us…and so our others.

There are two ditches in the work life we must avoid.

One ditch is to become workaholics thinking our efforts will save us–from poverty, from meaningless, from whatever we fear. Sadly, working all the time creates a deep legalism that is essentially trying to work to receive blessing. It is a terrible cancer.

We see that in the elder brother worker attitude in Jesus’ parable of Luke 15. “I slaved away for you.” And I never got to celebrate. Such work is demanding and makes us demanding and sour and bitter. We are pushy and hold grudges. We work alone in the dark without a since of shared labor and community. And never find the celebration we need.

The other ditch is the prodigal’s attitude. Work is oppressive. We want a get rich quick scheme so we can avoid work. Life becomes a strong corrective for some of these individuals…if we allow them to face some of their consequences: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat” (2 Thes 3:10).

Sabbath can be a reset button for all of this.

It allows the workaholic to be challenged by the “do littles” and vice versa and at the same time keeps us all in community.

One final note about work. How do we keep going in our work?

One of our Andrews University Leadership graduates, Joe Rakocy, did a fascinating study of the 91 year old Army employee who retired after 69 years of work. He believed that John Bruce kept going for many reasons but three specific factors:

  1. Loyalty to the fallen comrades he remembered in WW2  and loyalty to his nation.
  2. Leadership. Being in a leadership role gave him choices and create teams. The ability to hire, change your work force (fire and promote), and lead projects help us make meaningful work.
  3. Learning: he kept learning new stuff (computers, social media, etc…)

Seems God knows about our drive and need to work. It appears that it can keep our lives keep rolling.

Prayer: Thanks God for letting us join you in this great creative experience we call labor. Help those who feel oppressed right now to find better work or more joy in their current work. Also help those trying to escape work to avoid the prodigal’s deception and embrace a joyful experience of the meaningfulness we have as creative agents made in your image. And thanks for the weekly rest!!!


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