Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord guards the city,
the guard keeps watch in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives sleep to his beloved.
Sons are indeed a heritage from the Lord,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the sons of one’s youth.
Happy is the man who has
his quiver full of them.
He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies in the gate. (New Revised Standard Version)
When my wife was growing up, her family had a prominent portrait of John Wayne in the living room above the television. That picture spoke volumes about the family ethos. They had horses and loved to ride and enjoy the outdoors. Hard work was a daily reality of life, as well as a rugged individualism that often suppressed all else in order to engage in work.
Doing your best, striving for excellence, and learning responsibility are good things that mature people do every day. Yet, there is a fine line between hard work that provides and enriches, and lonely work that is frenetic and fueled by anxiety about the future.
Today’s psalm gives us a wake-up call. All our work is useless, in vain, unless it is connected to the G-d who gives strength and sweet sleep.
The motives that lie behind why we burn the candle at both ends are just as important to the Lord as the work itself.
If we independently believe that our life is in our own hands, and we work with worry animating our every job, then we have lost touch with the understanding that it is G-d who ultimately provides us with every good thing in life.
However, if we begin to relax and let go of our stubborn independent streak, then we work hard with the strength G-d gives and let the Lord watch over us.
Trusting G-d in our work is connected to children being a heritage from the Lord. Children worked with their parents in the ancient world. Fathers and mothers did not go it alone – it was a family affair, as well a community endeavor.
Whenever we slip into a groove of worshiping individualism rather than simply taking personal responsibility, then we must come back to the inter-dependence that we were designed for as people.
The ethos the psalmist is looking for is trust in God, reliance on others, and working together for the common good of all.
Here are a few ways of working together and not carrying the load of work on our own:
Ask for what you want and need to accomplish the task. Whenever we don’t ask, we inevitably go the route of hustling for help through manipulation, guilt, and shaming others.
If someone says, “no,” simply ask another person or persons. Asking once just won’t do. And neither is commanding others to get things done. We have the ability to ask calmly, confidently, and compassionately. Accept the “no” which you might get without retreating back to manipulation. This is especially necessary when it comes to asking family members.
Ask God to help you in your work. Each day as I enter the hospital for which I am a Chaplain, I say a prayer, “God almighty, blessed Father, Son, and Spirit, please go before me, with me, and after me to each patient, their family members, and every team member I encounter today, with the love and compassion of Jesus Christ.”
Delegate, if possible. This is not the same thing as barking orders. It is a realization that we are finite creatures with limitations of time, energy, and resources. It’s okay to share the load with others. In fact, most people are more than willing to help, if you and I will just ask. It enables them to feel needed and important.
Be vulnerable and gracious. We all mess up our work, at times. And it’s important that we are own our mistakes without heaping unnecessary criticism on ourselves, or others. Offering an apology, recognizing that you’ve bit off more than you can chew, and admitting your lack of energy are healthy, not sinful. Also, whenever others fall short of their responsibilities, it’s our job to handle it with grace – seeking to understand and help rather than criticize and judge.
Working together, consulting, collaborating, and engaging in fellowship enable us to speak with those who may oppose, misunderstand, or misinterpret us. It’s also a more joyful way to live.
Sovereign God, you created all things and in you everything holds together. Preserve me with your mighty power that I may not fall into disconnection with you and others, nor be overcome by anxiety. In all I do direct me to the fulfilling of your purposes, through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen.