Next weekend is Labor Day. The scorching heat of summer has broken. The air is alive with the first hint of fall. Kids are back in school. Friday night football is here. NCAA stadiums vibrate with the first games of fall. The Cowboys have renewed hope and the Rangers are leading the league. Frisbees fly in parks while hamburgers sizzle on the grill. The lakes are still warm enough for skiing. Fishing is good. It is a great weekend to gather with friends and family and relax.
Underneath all this lies the significance of the day, a time to step back and celebrate the importance of labor. It is the core of our culture: the value of hard work, perseverance and discipline. Most of the time we fawn over celebrities. But on this day, the common laborer takes the stage.
I think of my father, a blue collar worker who started out trimming grass around telephone poles and worked thirty-five years for Bell Telephone before his death at age fifty three. I always admired his example of honesty, generosity and hard work. He taught me something about Jesus, who chose to spend most of his adult life working in a simple carpenter’s shop in Nazareth. Jesus’ life elevated the role of laborers and craftsmen for eternity.
In our current economy many are taking jobs that are not their first choice. Some who have trained and studied for years to launch a professional career are finding themselves in the position of accepting jobs that differ from their dreams. It is important that whatever job we find, that we give our best. The Bible says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (Colossians 3:23-24).
Alexis de Toqueville visited America in the 1830’s in search of the secret that enabled the young democracy to succeed. At its root, he discovered what would come to be known as the American work ethic founded upon Christian faith. It was not, he observed, merely hard work that made American Democracy successful. It was the other values along with it that made work meaningful: honesty, integrity and generosity.
Many Americans are discovering, after decades dominated by greed and materialism, that the value of labor is never truly measured in monetary return. The way we choose to invest the labor of our minds, our hands, our hearts and our energy will produce fulfillment when the object is not our own self gratification but the service of others. Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant … just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28). Paul exhorted us, “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you.” (1 Thessalonians 4:11).