Monday, September 3, 2012

Happy Labor Day!

This is one of my favorite photos of my grandfather, or "Papa" as we called him.

Papa (on the far right of the photo) retired from John Deere and Co. in Moline, Illinois. He worked long hours at his job in the foundry, work that was probably not particularly fulfilling. Yet, he got up at the crack of dawn, put on his work pants and boots, and took his black metal lunch box packed by my grandma each morning. He worked hard.

My grandma, Honey, worked too. She labored in the home. She took odd jobs as a waitress or in a factory. She was determined, no matter what her circumstance to care for her children. Here she is at a coffee shop where she worked (on the far left of the photo).

Most people in that generation were used to "labor." They did not see work as we see it, as a means to personal fulfillment. They weren't worried about their "calling" in life. They worked to put a meal on the table, to pay rent, to survive.

According to Forbes magazine, Labor Day was first celebrated in the United States on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City and was planned by the Central Labor Union. The Labor Day parade of about 10,000 workers took unpaid leave and marched from City Hall past Union Square and ended in Wendel’s Elm Park for a concert, speeches, and a picnic.

Labor Day is not just about a day off, but a time to honor the 155 million men and women currently in the United States work force. I think there is something good and real and honest about putting in a hard day's work. Sweat equity, they call it, where you are invested in something that is worth doing.

We have it easier today than our forebearers. In the late 1800s, reports Forbes, the average American worked 12-hour days and seven-day weeks to eke out a basic living.  Also, children as young as five or six years old worked in factories and mines.

One of the foundational Bible verses of the college where I teach is to "Study to show yourself approved, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of Truth." 2 Timothy 2:15.

I like that. I want to be a workman like that - studying and working and teaching and housekeeping, not for glory, but for God.

Whatever you do, the Bible tells us, we are to do it with all of our heart, mind and soul. Whether we are pushing papers at an office or changing a baby's diapers. Whether we are mowing the lawn or teaching a class, each job is to be done to our best ability.

That is a challenge. In our age, we aren't used to facing challenges, especially if the reward is not imminent. We will gladly work for increased pay or opportunity, but we find it difficult to be steadfast when the hours are long or the job unrewarding.

Labor Day marks the official end of the vacation season and, for many kids, the return to school. But, today is a day to rest and relax and kick up our heels for the moment.

So, Happy Labor Day to all of my fellow workers, who commute long hours or search for a decent paying job or faithfully serve from home.

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