September 6, 2020 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Genesis 1:27-28 (NRSV)
So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”
On this Labor Day weekend, we have an opportunity to value the work of all people, especially those whose work is deemed “essential.” By offering a simple “thank you for working,” we can acknowledge their labor and affirm the difference they are making, both in the world and our own lives. Why not say to those who serve you this weekend, “Thank you for your work”?
Today is Sunday of Labor Day weekend in the United States. Once again, I’d like to reflect with you on work in the context of a global pandemic.
In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion, I talked about how easy it is these days, in the midst of a pandemic, to experience work as something negative. For one thing, we can see more clearly now many injustices that have to do with work. Plus, in a personal way, many workers feel increasing suffering associated with work, whether they are working out in the coronavirus-threatening world or in their homes. Clearly work has serious problems. Yet, as people who build our understanding of reality on Scripture, we recognize that work is fundamentally good, however broken it may be in our current age. God intended work to be good. It was part of his blessing upon human beings, a way for us to use our gifts and make a difference in the world (1:28).
As we consider our response to the brokenness of work, we remember that God calls his people to do justice in today’s world just as in the time of the Old Testament prophets (see, for example, Micah 6:8). One way we can seek justice is by taking seriously the injustice in the world around us. We recognize, not just individual unjust actions, but also systems and structures tainted by injustice. With God’s wisdom and strength, we seek God’s kingdom and justice for workplaces and communities throughout the world. (Again, I direct your attention to this insightful article written by my colleague, Michaela O’Donnell Long.)
In addition to working for change in systems and structures, you and I must also pay attention to the ways in which we do our own work. We ask ourselves if we are treating our colleagues, subordinates, and customers with justice. Are we seeking what’s best for them? Are we regarding them with mercy and fairness? During this pandemic, when working from home is both prevalent and difficult, we examine our lives to see if we are extending grace in these unusual times to those who work with and for us.
I want to suggest another way you and I can act in response to the fundamental goodness of work, even and especially in this pandemic. Allow me, if you will, to share a personal example. Like so many others, I have been distressed by some of the inequities that have revealed themselves as the coronavirus has infected the world of work. I am more aware of demands placed upon “essential workers.” I am concerned that they be treated fairly when it comes to matters of safety and compensation, and will use whatever power I have to try to help.
But I am also cognizant of my own tendency to take for granted those whose work is essential in my life. Whether I’m buying a gallon of milk, trying to fix my sprinklers, or seeing my doctor, it’s easy for me to overlook the work of those who serve me so faithfully and quietly. The pandemic has helped to change my perspective and my attitude. It has helped me see more clearly both the work and the workers who contribute so much to my life.
What have I done with this new perspective? In addition to feeling gratitude, I have made a stronger effort to communicate it. For example, there is a man named Steven who helps me get my prescriptions from the local pharmacy. He and I always exchange a friendly “Hello” and “Thank you.” But, in the past few months, I have seen him and his work differently. I have been so glad he is there to help me, in spite of the health risks he is taking. So I have said to him on numerous occasions something like, “Steven, thank you for your help today. I really appreciate the fact that you are working these days.“ The first time I said this, he looked surprised. In an awkward moment he mumbled “No problem.“ I think he was afraid I was about to complain about something. But since that first exchange, Steven has become more relaxed. He’s started calling me by name when I approach the pharmacy window. And now, when I thank him for working, he smiles and says “You’re welcome.”
Such a small thing I am doing with Steven, and with every other essential worker I encounter these days. I hope I never stop doing this sort of thing. I know my regular exchange with Steven won’t change the world. But it may make a tiny change in his world. I hope it helps him experience the fact that his work is good and makes a difference. Perhaps this pandemic will help all of us see the goodness of work and acknowledge those who do it with new gratitude. There are still major problems that need to be addressed, to be sure. But you and I, through our minor words and deeds, can make a mustard seed of difference, even today.
How are your relationships with your colleagues? Your subordinates? Your customers? Your vendors? Your superiors? Even your competitors?
Are there people who serve you through their work whom you could acknowledge more directly?
Identify at least one person who serves you through their work, and say to this person: “Thank you for working in this time. I appreciate you and your work.”
Gracious God, forgive us when we take for granted the work of others. May we be people who see and acknowledge the good work of those who serve us as well those who serve with us. Help us to affirm others in their work as a reflection of the created goodness of work, as well as an expression of love for our neighbors. Amen.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Relationships and Work (Genesis 1:27; 2:18, 21-25)
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.