Recently I came across an old Facebook post I wrote well before I had children. It was laundry day, and I had felt the need to let the social-media world know that after a couple of weeks of neglect, I had my fair share of laundry to do — all five loads of it.
If I could have patted my former self on the head through the computer, I would have. Five loads of laundry is chump change for me nowadays. With three little boys ages three and under, I am doing five loads of laundry every few days, not every few weeks.
Laundry is that glaring household task that seems to scream at me, “You will never be done!” If it’s not in the washer and dryer, it needs to be folded and put away, only for it to be time to wash another load. Most days I don’t give much thought to the meaning behind the laundry, or any other work I do in my home. I just do it. But then I have those days when the ordinariness of it all makes me feel small and insignificant.
All Work Is God’s Work
We were visiting with some friends over dessert not long ago and, as usual, the topic of conversation gradually moved to the joys and complexities of our callings. Everyone who was there, except me, works outside the home. I usually enjoy hearing about the work of my friends, and this time was no different.
As the dialogue moved further and further into spreadsheets that need organizing, clients demanding paperwork, and email inboxes never at zero, I felt myself having less and less to contribute.
I don’t deal in overflowing email inboxes; I deal in overflowing laundry baskets. I don’t have clients who need information from me; I have toddlers who need me to help them go to the bathroom. I don’t have spreadsheets that need organizing; I have closets that need organizing.
As I reflected on my work in the moment, I felt silly for even trying to chime in, believing the lie that the laundry can’t possibly be as important as a work email.
Which is where a healthy, biblical understanding of all work comes in.
Labor Not in Vain
In our society, we often gauge the value of work based on compensation, title, and place. If you don’t get paid, have a formal title, and leave your house for meetings or the office, then it must not be real work. But that’s not how God defines our work.
We don’t live in a world where some people work and some people don’t — it might seem that way based on how our labor market plays out — but in God’s economy, we work because we are created in the image of the one who created work, and even still is working (Genesis 1–2; John 5:17). Work is part of being his image-bearer, part of being human. Work is far more about who we reflect when we work, than the finer details of our toil. God created work, to meet the needs of his creatures, and for his glory.
Work is one of God’s ways of showing us how much he loves us and the world he has made. He uses people to cultivate the earth that brings forth beautiful flowers and trees. This is our work, but it declares his glory. He uses people to feed hungry bellies that give thanks to him for satisfied palates and nourished bodies. This is our task, but it shows the world that he is the provider and sustainer. He uses people to clean what was once filthy, bringing order out of chaos and protecting people from bacteria, illness, and even injury from clutter. This is our labor, but it helps other people feel loved and cared for, and ultimately by God.
This has tremendous implications for even the most ordinary work that you do on a given day — yes, even our work in the home. You have the rock-solid truth that “in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58). No single task you do with Christ in view — for his glory and for the good of other people — is wasted, no matter how mundane it might seem. In the Lord, your diaper changes are not in vain. In the Lord, that moldy refrigerator disinfected with bleach is not in vain. In the Lord, those people you welcome to your table, even though you are tired and want to be by yourself, are not welcomed in vain.
In the Lord Jesus, every single act of work you do is never wasted, because in him you are showing the world what it means to be loved, cared for, and welcomed into a family.
No Small Effort
In God’s economy, there is no small work. We might say this to ourselves with gritted teeth when we are scrubbing grass stains out of baseball pants or cleaning up a Coke stain from a youth-group party in our basement, but it is absolutely true.
The ordinary work of the home often feels small and insignificant. It’s work that the world doesn’t always see as worthy of people with a college degree or average competencies.
And because we have believed the lie, that bigness and recognition equals greatness, we may find ourselves in a constant race to find meaning in our work when the meaning is staring us in the face asking for another bowl of Lucky Charms. Ordinary work matters to God because ordinary people matter to God.
So while I may not have an inbox that needs emptying, I have a dishwasher that does. I may not have people pressing me for data, but I have friends who need a comfortable couch, perceptive questions, and a listening ear. I don’t have clients who need my expertise, but I do have a nasty stain on my rug that needs some elbow grease and a stain-remedy recipe from Pinterest.
All of this work is good work, from the board room to the living room. There is no “ordinary work” that is beneath us as Christians, because in Christ every task we undertake is never in vain.