“God, give me work ‘til my life shall end
And life ‘til my work is done.”
-epitaph of Winifred Holtby, English activist and author
A few years ago, my mother was teaching her first grade students about the different holidays of the year. “Why do we celebrate Thanksgiving?” she asked. One little girl raised her hand and said that the Pilgrims and Indians came together to thank God for what they had. Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter, and other holidays were asked and answered fairly easily. Then she came to, “Why do we celebrate Labor Day?” The class was silent for a moment, until finally a boy in the back of the room lifted his hand. She called on him and, with the wisdom of having recently received a new baby brother, he replied, “Labor Day is when the mommy pushes real hard so the baby can get born!”
This is certainly not what most of us think of on our Labor Day holiday. It is (for some people) a day off from our jobs, a day marking the unofficial end of summer, a day for cookouts or trips to the beach or picnics with family and friends. But there is a sense in which my mother’s young student was not wrong. What he was referring to is, of course, another kind of labor. Merriam-Webster lists childbirth as one of the definitions of the word “labor,” along with the paid work we often think of when we hear the word, and also any other “expenditure of physical or mental effort.”
In our economy, not everyone has a paid job to which to return the day after Labor Day, but by this definition, we all have labor in which to engage today and every day. For some, it may be the hard work of bringing a new life into the world. For others, it may mean cleaning house, preparing meals for the family, helping children with homework. Maybe it is getting up early and going to school. For many here in the hospital, it is the difficult task of lying in bed and healing, or sitting with a loved one who is doing so. Even on days when we do not receive a paycheck for what we do, there is meaningful work to be done. Like Winifred Holtby, I believe that each day we are on earth, God has something for us to do. As an old hymn says, “I will work, I will pray, I will labor every day.” Perhaps today’s labor is prayer, or forgiveness, or love, or healing, or reconciliation, or that job that we actually do get paid to do. For all these forms of work, we give thanks.
God, thank you for the work you have for us to do. Each day has meaning and purpose when we are following you. Please help us to see what important labor you have for us today, even if it may not look like what we think of as “work.” We know that even a day “off” is not a wasted day, for as long as we are alive, you have plans for us. Amen.
--Chaplain Stacy N. Sergent