Tilling the Soil
For the last year and a half, my friend Nate has worked half-time at Starbucks. The other half of his time, he's one of our pastors at The Vine, the upstart church we attend. Being a pastor has its own challenges—learning to properly care for people, feeling responsibility for people's faith and growth, and experiencing pressure on family responsibilities. I see Nate at church and at leadership meetings, working out solutions to these challenges with the other two pastors.
But I've also been able to watch as Nate searched for a part-time job with health insurance that would allow him to be near the University of Wisconsin campus because he wants to help students meet and follow Jesus. Nate gets up really early to sling lattes at undergrads before they're awake. He deals with crazy rushes, with lines snaking to the door, with loud conversations blathering around him, with sore feet as he dances around calling out orders.
Nate has chosen this path to get insurance, yes, but his primary drive is to share the love of Christ with people he works around, to answer hard questions of faith, to model a different way of living and a healthy family life. Nate never dreamed of working at Starbucks as the fulfillment of some longtime aspiration. But he's willing to because he loves Jesus and he loves other people. God's got him handing out scones, so he does it excellently.
In the Bible, God said to Adam, after he and Eve had just messed up big time: "Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food" (Genesis 3:17-19).
This names a primary consequence of sin, a characteristic of God's judgment. Work existed before sin—God had Adam and Eve caring for and harvesting from the garden. But due to sin, we can expect our labor to be hard, our sweat to be profuse, our tasks to be frustrating.
Over the years my wife, Chrissy, and I became experts on thorns and thistles through our gardening attempts. When we lived in South Africa, the high school and seminary students we worked with had the month off, and we had the opportunity to travel back to the United States to visit family and friends. Every year, Chrissy planted a garden, and every year we came back to shoulder-high weeds. We had to sweat and toil to preserve any chance of eating peppers, tomatoes, or squash. We fought against the vicious, chaotic inner tendency or entropy that naturally throws up weeds and pests and disease. Work is hard. This is true in the garden, and this is true in the office.
But we toil anyway. It shouldn't surprise me when my job ends up pushing on good parts of life, constricting that which ought to grow and flourish. Even when I have cut down all the thorns and thistles I can, there are still more than I can really cope with. They grow really fast.
In the U.S., I find it really easy to manufacture a lot of challenges. I make myself busy. I bite off more than I can chew. I fail to set limits. And then I continually find myself thinking and saying that someday I'm going to get through it (whatever "it" is, whether college, Nicaragua, grad school, the kids being in diapers, or the job hunt), popping out of the other side of my busyness. I'll finally find "free" time, an open schedule, no piddly tasks eating up my minutes and hours. I'll get to finally indulge in all the time-wasting pleasure I want.