Saturday, November 12, 2022

Life is not work?

If you read these pages, you already know that I struggle with the modern idea of retirement.  Add to that the quiet quitting that hits the news and the numbers no longer interested in being part of the work force but not yet retired, it makes for some head scratching.  A discussion with a colleague moved it into the realm of the Church when he said of me that I did not know how to do anything but work.  At first I demurred but then I admitted he was probably right.  Is that a bad thing?

Before the Fall in Eden, man was still created for work.  Work is not simply something we do until we do not do it anymore.  Work is what we were created for.  The character of that work changed radically after the rebellion of Adam and Even and the entrance of sin into God's created order.  To be sure, the nature of work before and after the Fall is not simply distinct but nearly opposite.  Man was created to be lord of creation, to manage what God had made for God's own purpose, and to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.  When sin changed things, it did not relieve man of his role as God's representative over all creation or his stewardship of the earth or his call to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.  Instead, the very things man was always to do now became a burdensome work.  Creation did not live together in a nice, neat pattern but everything was out of skew -- from the rain and storms to the animals.  The steward of the earth had to fight against the things he was created to manage and God's order was rejected in the world just as man had rejected it in Eden.  Being fruitful, multiplying, and filling the earth came at a cost -- the heavy burden of providing and protecting for the man and the pain of childbirth and the disappointment of the mother with the choices of the child as they grew up.  But we were meant for work -- always.

Now in a world consumed with the illusion of balance between self and family and leisure and work, we have been quick to label some of the work we were created for more burdensome than other work.  So we find ourselves at the junction of self and family in which more and more of our young people (even Christian ones) are not sure they want to work at a marriage or take responsibility for a family.  We invented nursing homes and assisted living so we would not be burdened by our parents and other relatives who needed help through the day (and night).  The balance between self and spouse and family seems to be rather tenuous at the moment as we claim more and more of the pie for ourselves.

Leisure is not merely a distraction or even a hobby.  It has become a life pursuit.  We spent great amounts of money and time on our hobbies and work so hard at them that we complain of needing a vacation from our vacation.  Could it be that this work has come to predominate?  Have we chosen to fulfill ourselves less with relationships (and even friendships) than with the activities of our leisure time?  We often seem more wedded to leisure than anything else -- even in families we schedule our kids to death with every kind of leisure activity we might want or wanted but could not have when we grew up.  What are we teaching them?

Work, however, is clearly the bad guy in all of this.  Work demands too much, does not reward enough, is not flexible enough to allow us to control our schedules, and requires us to do things we really do not want to do.  No wonder we dream of retirement when work is the one thing in our lives that can be jettisoned so that we can indulge ourselves in the other stuff.  But who decided that this was the grand state of the fully evolved human life?  Financially free to do nothing but the work we want to do -- does that sound a little self-centered and selfish to you?  We say we will use retirement to volunteer for good causes but only when that does not interfere with our hobbies, entertainment, travel, and personal time.  Love your neighbor, okay, but when it fits my timetable.  Some said that when they retire they would have time to volunteer at Church but it is just as difficult to engage the retired as it is the active workers in the work of the Church. How curious it is that men desire retirement but still expect someone (the wife maybe?) to cook, clean, wash clothes, and take care of the house (while the man mows the yard).  Some work has to continue.

Work is not simply a part of life since the Fall but always part of life.  It does not help to make work the bad guy.  Sure, we can gladly admit that often work is a pain but is that not due to sin and how it changed things?  If work is a pain, sin is to blame and, if sin is to blame, ultimately that cuts back upon us at some point.  The dreamy life of leisure, individual pursuit, and self-interest is itself a dream and a dangerous one.  I resist the idea that this is a godly dream and part of God's design.  In fact, I reject the whole idea of balance.  The Lord is not merely one of our pursuits or interests.  They all matter.  They all come from God -- work, spouse, family, care of the home, provision, protection, etc....  God does not give us a pass on work but the work changes with our abilities, to be sure.  No, the venue may be different but the work goes on and not because sin screwed it up for us but because this is how and why we were made by God.

1 comment:

William Weedon said...

Let me “amen” Dr. Strickert’s words. I honestly DO look forward to retirement, not because I plan to work no more, but so that the work may be entirely of my own choice. There are many things I want to do and write that my current schedule doesn’t allow. So it might be that “retirement” means the freedom to work under one’s own terms, but still being busy about tasks in the Lord’s Vineyard.