This post is adapted from the book "Glory in the Ordinary" by Courtney Reissig. It first appeared on Crossway.org; used with permission.
A few months ago a friend offered to watch my boys for me as I prepared to lead our women’s Bible study in the fall. A mother of two small children herself, she understood how hard it can be to find time for quiet tasks, like praying and studying Scripture. She wanted to serve me. It was a gift I didn’t have eyes for at the time.
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Instead of taking her up on her offer, I thanked her for the gesture and told her I would consider it if things ever got too crazy. It wasn’t that I didn’t need a morning break, I just already had one built into my life—Mother’s Day Out. I know how hard it is to take care of my own children sometimes, so adding my crew to her already busy load made me feel guilty and lazy. Dropping them off at Mother’s Day Out one day a week doesn’t (anymore). It’s what I pay for, right?
What is the difference between paying a childcare worker to watch our children, or a housekeeper to clean our house, and accepting the “free” labor from a friend? A friend cleans our kitchen for us and we apologize profusely. We hover around wondering if she thinks we are lazy. But when a cleaning team descends upon our home, we pull out the checkbook and thank them for their work.
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There is no difference, really. Our inability to accept work done for free reveals our own inability to understand the purpose and value of work, and it shows us that we are far more shaped by cultural norms regarding work than biblical ones.
In the beginning God created man and woman—and work (Gen. 1:26–28). God worked in bringing forth creation and rested on the seventh day (Gen. 2:1–3). When he made Adam and Eve, he put them in the garden to work it and to keep it. Part of being fruitful and multiplying involves work. We cultivate. We create. We are workers in the very core of our being. There were no paychecks in the garden. Adam and Eve worked because the God who made them in his image also works. Work is a function of being an image bearer, meaning we all work, regardless of whether we bring in an income. From the smallest child picking up his toys at the end of the day to the elderly widow serving cookies to her neighbor, human beings were made to work.
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Pitting paid work and unpaid work against one another misses the purpose of our work. Martin Luther is known for the idea that our work is a means of loving God by loving our neighbor. Luther didn’t see in Scripture that our work can save us, but he did see that it is a form of worship back to God—and neighbor love is a by-product. When we work, whether we are volunteering with the PTO or changing a dirty diaper, we are bringing glory to God by loving the people who are served by our work. People matter to God. The world matters to God. And God uses us to love, serve, and cultivate the world he has made.
At the end of the day we can accept the work of others, paid and unpaid, as God’s loving care for us, in the same way that we see our own work as his care for others. Money is the language of value in our culture, but it’s not God’s language of value. When we stand before him one day, he won’t ask us how much money we made in our work. We can’t take that with us (though it sure does help to pay the bills). But we can bring him glory with the fruit of our labors each and every day—from the kitchen to the childcare classroom. All work is valuable, paid and unpaid.
Courtney Reissig is a wife, mother, and writer. She has written for numerous Christian publications including the Gospel Coalition, Christianity Today, and the Her.meneutics blog. She lives in Little Rock, Arkansas, with her husband, Daniel, and their three sons.
Image courtesy: ©Thinkstock/monkeybusinessimages
Publication date: August 24, 2017