Whistle While You Work

by Joanie Butman

Labor Day marks the end of a particularly laborious summer. I don’t say that in a negative way. This year just involved more physical labor than usual: gardening, sanding, painting, moving, scrubbing, and reorganizing. As tiring as those tasks sometimes are, there’s nothing more energizing than being part of a creative process whether it’s planting, planning a function, designing, cleaning, writing – anything where you can sit back upon completion and appreciate the final product. My father-in-law, a workhorse well into his 90’s, described this phenomenon in his memoir.

I spent my leave doing manual labor building a foundation under my cottage. My observation here is not about the job, but about the benefits of manual labor. When working with one’s hands, one knows and sees what he has done. If unsatisfactory, stop and fix it. The exercise builds one’s appetite. The tiredness promotes sound sleep. The finished job promotes peace of mind. I went back to Washington with renewed energy.

I couldn’t agree more. It’s intensely gratifying to be able to bring something from nothing and to appreciate the fruits of your labor – even the mistakes made in the process and what was learned from them. I think that sense of satisfaction is an innate Divine instinct. We are God’s finest creation, made in His image. As such, it’s only natural that a certain amount of creativity is allotted to each of us in varying forms, which is probably why I feel so in tune with Him in the midst of any type of creative process. We’re all apprentices under the tutelage of the Master. 

God expects us to use our unique sets of gifts and talents as we partner with Him to infuse His glory into anything we do whether it‘s peeling a potato or painting a masterpiece. You don’t have to be a Picasso to create a work of art. When you take on any task for His glory – even the mundane can become a thing of beauty.

Brother Lawrence, a 17th century monk who spent his entire career cooking and cleaning for his fellow brothers, pointed out. “It is not necessary to have great things to do. I turn my little omelet in the pan for the love of God. The issue is not the sacredness or worldly status of the task but the motivation behind it.”  My pastor expressed something similar recently, “It’s not what you do but who you are while you’re doing it that matters.”

What I discovered as I worked this summer is that I’ve grown soft and old – a lethal combination. Physical labor is harder now because it’s not part of my daily routine nor am I young anymore. Doing what I used to do takes more effort and leaves me sore and exhausted – but still content. The same can be said about my spiritual life during the summer. Away from the discipline and fellowship of Bible study and my home church, I grow soft from lack of “exercise.”

We can’t fight the inevitable effects of aging. The reality that our abilities diminish as we age is just a sad fact of life. However, we can definitely choose to stay spiritually fit regardless of our age or abilities. Maintaining a healthy relationship with Christ is the one ability we can’t lose to the vagaries of life. My dad has long feared getting “the Alzheimer’s.” His main concern is that he’ll forget about God. My reply is always the same, “Maybe, but He’ll never forget about you!”

I firmly believe God communicates with all of us in ways only we can hear. Even so, we have to become familiar with His voice in order to recognize it, and that can only be achieved by speaking and listening to Him on a daily basis. In the same way my father-in-law noted that physical labor increases your appetite, the more time you spend with God, the more your appetite for Him grows. The result is always peace of mind and renewed energy.

You can’t afford to be spiritually out of shape when life gets particularly laborious. Those are the times when you reap the benefits of choosing a daily discipline of being in the presence of God because if you’ve been diligent, your spiritual muscle memory kicks in and carries you through.

I will close with some lyrics from Steven Curtis Chapman’s Do Everything. Something to think about as you go about your daily chores.

Maybe you’re that guy with the suit and tie

Maybe your shirt says your name

You may be hooking up mergers

Cooking up burgers

But at the end of the day

Little stuff

Big stuff

In between stuff

God sees it all the same

Maybe you’re sitting in math class

Or maybe on a mission in the Congo

Or maybe you’re working at the office

Singing along with the radio

Maybe you’re a down and out rock star

Or feeding orphans in the Myanmar

Anywhere and everywhere that you are

Whatever you do

It all matters

So do what you do

Don't ever forget

To do everything you do to the glory

 of the One who made you,

Cause He made you

To do every little thing that you do

To bring a smile to His face

And tell the story of grace

With every move that you make

And every little thing you do