On Faith: Lessons learned from the labor of othersIt is said that St. Francis of Assisi was hoeing his garden one day when a passerby asked what he would do if he were suddenly to learn that he would die before sunset that very day. “I would finish hoeing my garden,” he replied.
By: Tom Murray, pastor, Zion Lutheran Church, Lake County News Chronicle
It is said that St. Francis of Assisi was hoeing his garden one day when a passerby asked what he would do if he were suddenly to learn that he would die before sunset that very day. “I would finish hoeing my garden,” he replied.
I often think of that story on Labor Day, and wonder to myself, would I go to the office and work if I knew that it was my last day on earth? Truthfully, I don’t know the answer to that question. My first reaction to that thought is that I would rather spend the day with my family, call long lost friends to say good-bye, take one last hike up a favorite trail, spend one last evening on a quiet lake, and then spend time in prayer before nightfall.
And yet, as St. Francis pointed out, I could just go to work. His response has a calmness that is irresistible. It has a Zen- like quality of simplicity to it. Why not just go to work? There is more to his response, I think, than one sees at first glance.
The words, “I would finish hoeing my garden” tell us a great deal about how one should live life. If we live each day fully, with no regrets and with no kind words left unsaid, our life becomes our ministry. We will have spent the time with our families with no need to make up for lost time. Our long lost friends will not be long lost friends, but instead friends who we have stayed in touch with even though we are separated from them. We will have taken the time to appreciate God’s creation, in the woods and on the lakes. And most importantly, we will have spent time in prayer.
What St. Francis’ words also teach us, is that work is an important part of life. Jesus spent the first thirty years of his life in Nazareth working. He worked for a living, just as we all do. Our work life isn’t something that is separate from our faith life. As Christians, we are called to live our faith in our work, whether as professionals or as laborers. Our places of employment are opportunities for kindness and compassion. When we follow the teachings of Jesus at work, we are sharing our faith through our words and our actions.
This was put into a beautiful perspective for me several years ago when a beloved childhood friend of mine was struggling with an aggressive form of cancer. I logged into his Caring Bridge site to see how he was doing and read the entry his wife had posted that day. She wrote that a long morning of chemo treatment had left him weak and with terrible headaches, but he returned home and went to work for the afternoon. I was humbled to read it, and ashamed of the occasions throughout my life when I have complained about having to go to work.
I hope and pray that some day I may have the strength and faith of my friend. I pray for his family, who lost him within a few weeks of that wonderful Caring Bridge post, and I give thanks for the lesson I learned from his example.
My prayer this Labor Day weekend is that we might live the gospel each day we are on this earth, and find joy in our work as we share the many gifts we have been given.