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

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