Nearly a decade ago, when our four children were small, and my husband had begun a new pastorate, I found myself in the living room of one of our parishoners, Helen. She was downsizing, and needed help packing up boxes of things to donate for our church yard sale, which was to benefit a missionary family overseas.
She was a young eighty-year old, and we made piles and laughed as she told me some of her life stories. I taped and wrapped and labeled boxes, and she sorted then poured our coffee.
After a couple of hours she stared.
“You like work.”
I shrugged. “I guess so.”
“Well I do too, and I recognize it in you.” She stared a moment longer, and I have often wondered what she was about to say. Her phone rang and we did not finish the conversation.
Her comment stuck with me over the years. She has since died, but I have not forgotten.
With the years whipping by, I recognize that we all have holes that we attempt to fill. Old habits die hard, and I bump up against my need to always be working to earn love or respect or worth or an unhealthy combination of all of these things. It is ugly to see, but there it is.
I keep speaking these words to my children: “I love you unconditionally.”
And I do. In fact, it often feels like the purest form of love for me: effortless… a mama bear who would step in front of any predator or train or person who would hurt one of the four of them. As they grow older, I pray for them more now than I did when they were small. But the most important thing for them to know is that I will always have their back; I will never turn against them, and my desire for them is to follow God wherever He may lead them.
So back to work.
Work is good, but to work for love is like digging a pit and crawling in while someone else is slowly filling the hole back in with dirt. Sooner or later one will suffocate. There is no thriving in the pit. Crawl out and live in freedom. Come into the sunlight and know that God is the only one to ever love perfectly. I should never work for love.
Not everyone strives to earn love; others struggle with materialism or gossip or laziness or covetousness. We all battle something. Recognize it and own it and work it out.
And be gentle. As they say, everyone is fighting a battle we know nothing about.