Excerpt from He Saw That It Was Good

When my daugh­ter was very young, she gazed up into my brown eyes and said, Dad­dy, when I grow up, I want to work at Waf­fle House.”

I had only one response to that self-rev­e­la­tion from my pru­dent, beau­ti­ful girl — to cry tears of joy. I imme­di­ate­ly began to think of all the free waf­fles that I could one day get from my daugh­ter. (Excuse me, but if you don’t love Waf­fle House, then you might just be what’s wrong with the world.) 

Now seri­ous­ly — of course I don’t want my daugh­ter to see a Waf­fle House career as the ulti­mate goal for her life. But nei­ther do I want her to feel less dig­ni­fied if she doesn’t find a career that per­fect­ly fits the Amer­i­can dream. What do I want for her? What I want for all of us — to love the idea of work­ing (and cre­at­ing), to pur­sue what brings her joy. At that moment? It was waf­fles. Hallelujah. 

And this lit­tle remem­brance points to a vital truth. When it comes to our call­ing, the rules of good work, of mean­ing and cre­ativ­i­ty, aren’t what we’ve been told they are. 

We live in a world where work means try­ing to find the bal­ance between pro­vi­sion and dig­ni­ty. The 2020 pan­dem­ic has proven that many indus­tries we thought were fail-proof can def­i­nite­ly do just that. From my per­spec­tive, only pride, indo­lence, or igno­rance would keep us from work­ing any job nec­es­sary in order to pro­vide for our­selves and our loved ones. But beyond that base­line, we ought to ask, What is good work? What does it mean to bring cre­ativ­i­ty into our call­ing? What are the sto­ries — true or false — that our cul­ture tells us about work? And how can we bring what we do every day — no mat­ter how hum­ble— into the sto­ry of cre­ation and redemp­tion that God is writ­ing so we can join him in heal­ing this bro­ken world? 

To begin, it is impor­tant that we cleanse the stench off the word work. We’ve all encoun­tered the com­mon cul­tur­al sto­ries of work either as end­less, mean­ing­less drudgery or as the whole pur­pose of human life. But work has an omi­nous shad­ow over it even in many Chris­t­ian spaces. Often it seems like the impor­tance of work is omit­ted because of a fix­a­tion on per­son­al piety. After all, how can work be spiritual? 

Some­times work is even vil­i­fied because of an incom­plete the­ol­o­gy that teach­es that it’s a curse — a con­se­quence of the Fall. We mis­read the sto­ry in Gen­e­sis, and before you know it, we’re believ­ing that labor is pun­ish­ment. Of course, that isn’t true. God’s invi­ta­tion to Adam (yes, right after he saw that it was good) was to name things and tend the gar­den. God blessed the first cou­ple, telling them to be fruit­ful and mul­ti­ply. Good work was nev­er about the curse. It was nev­er the result of sin. The insti­tu­tion of work was estab­lished because of the need to pro­duce good things from the benev­o­lent soil of Eden. Only after the Fall did our work retreat into shadow. 

When I speak of work, I want to return to that orig­i­nal idea. Work, in that good sense, is sim­ply human activ­i­ty that pro­duces results. Some­thing is made. Some­thing is done. This def­i­n­i­tion includes the artist who cre­ates, the teacher who instructs, the par­ent who rais­es chil­dren, and the altru­ist who vol­un­teers. It is not about pay­ment or job descriptions.

Whether or not work has always been ardu­ous is a debate for anoth­er time. But work has always been vir­tu­ous. I believe much of our trou­ble today comes from a sim­ple fact: we have lost the virtue we were meant to find in our vocations. 

Tomor­row many of us will wake up loathing the thought of our jobs. We will move through our morn­ing prep with weight­ed feet. We will rehearse respons­es to expect­ed con­fronta­tions and dis­ap­point­ments. I wish some­one would say some­thing to test me today! I’ll give them a piece of my mind. As the work­day draws clos­er, the clock will mock our reluc­tance. It’s time … it’s time … 

Our nar­ra­tive about work is passed down to us. If we feel neg­a­tive­ly about voca­tion, we prob­a­bly caught that per­spec­tive from our par­ents as they com­plained their way through their own career path (or lack of a path). We can prob­a­bly find the same atti­tude in our chil­dren when we attempt to wake them in the morn­ing. I know that many morn­ings I require bib­li­cal amounts of prayer and fast­ing to main­tain san­i­ty while wak­ing my chil­dren from their slum­ber. (I have rea­son to believe it was eas­i­er for Jesus to raise Lazarus from the grave than it is to com­mand an able-bod­ied teen to rise up from his or her bed and walk.) Inter­est­ing, isn’t it, that these same chil­dren have no prob­lem rac­ing the sun when their day’s itin­er­ary is filled with activ­i­ties they love? 

In any case, many of us car­ry a plague — we don’t believe that our work mat­ters. And it kills some­thing inside us. Why? Because we were made to par­tic­i­pate in cre­at­ing solu­tions and not just to work aimlessly. 

Sin left noth­ing uncor­rupt­ed. When we dis­dain activ­i­ties that don’t imme­di­ate­ly sat­is­fy us, we are liv­ing into the essence of human bro­ken­ness. Who­ev­er said that we could expect con­stant sat­is­fac­tion? A the­ol­o­gy that promis­es that is bro­ken. Nev­er­the­less, we find our­selves feel­ing like extras on the set of life, try­ing des­per­ate­ly to write a mean­ing­ful part for ourselves. 

But, of course, we’ve already been giv­en a good role. One that requires us to act out the image of God as we find our place in his sto­ry and to give of our­selves to make this world a lit­tle less bro­ken. What if, instead of cop­ing and com­plain­ing, we chose to believe this? To believe that we have a part to play — no mat­ter how hum­ble our role seems on the sur­face? What if we found the brav­ery to faith­ful­ly cre­ate in response to our call­ing, no mat­ter how hum­ble that call­ing is? What if we embraced the dai­ly oppor­tu­ni­ties we are giv­en to invest our time and our tal­ent in our work? 

Excerpt­ed from HE SAW THAT IT WAS GOOD: Reimag­in­ing Your Cre­ative Life to Repair A Bro­ken World © 2021 by Amisho Bara­ka Lewis. Pub­lished by Water­Brook, an imprint of Ran­dom House, a divi­sion of Pen­guin Ran­dom House LLC, on May 182021.

Pic­to­r­i­al Quilt is a tex­tile art­work cre­at­ed by Har­ri­et Pow­ers from 1895 to 1898. It lives at the Muse­um of Fine Arts, Boston in the Unit­ed States. The image is in the pub­lic domain.

Text First Published May 2021 · Last Featured on Renovare.org June 2022

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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