We were standing in the wind, rain, and cold at the end of a long queue to tour the Payson Temple open house on the busiest of days. Three teenage girls in front of us were shivering in short sleeves and bare legs—jumping up and down to generate heat. Finally, one girl said to her friends, “Ok, guys—enough of acting wimpy. We’ve gotta be tough. We can do this!” It made me smile—because I think she had heard these words many times before. Good parents teach their children to do hard things. They teach them to work, to endure, and to be “tough.” In this context, “tough” means to weather the storm instead of quitting. It means—no whimpering allowed! But how do parents teach this important skill when it’s our natural instinct to swoop down and pluck a child from distress? It’s a delicate balance to minister compassion while giving challenging responsibilities and accountability. A child will gain confidence when a parent says, “You can do this!” instead of rescuing. Does the Savior rescue us from every distress? No. He allows us to grow as we push through hard things, although He guides us to the finish line. He cheers us on and enables us to do what we could not do on our own. When our children were young, we gave them tasks to perform. If they complained—another task was immediately added, without scolding. Lessons were learned quickly this way. I want to be able to say these words at the end of each day: “I have fought a good fight; I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4:7).
I have often fantasized about a tensionless state where there are no deadlines, no stress. Isn’t that the ideal we all seek? Isn’t it good to reduce stress in our lives? Victor Frankl (from Man’s Search for Meaning) disagrees: “If architects want to strengthen a decrepit arch, they increase the load which is laid upon it, for thereby the arcs are joined more firmly together. So if therapists wish to foster their patients’ mental health, they should not be afraid to create a sound amount of tension through a reorientation toward the meaning of one’s life.” He summarized, “What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal.” I guess I don’t mind stressful work if I can see a worthy purpose—if it pushes me outside my comfort zone to be learning and growing. When Michelangelo was asked if carving stone exhausted him, he replied that it did not; rather, it filled him. Any effort with a worthy purpose produces growth. That’s why God allows adversity and challenge in in our mortal journey. So instead of yearning for a stress-free existence, I should smile and ask, “What am I learning from this?”
It’s possible to turn work into play. I’m trying to learn how to enjoy each task I’m presently doing, no matter how tedious. The difference between work and play may be hard to define. For me, making a quilt is play; arranging a bulletin board for a classroom is work. Yet, on close scrutiny, these two tasks have similar elements. Both require mathematical calculations and measuring, cutting, fitting, creating, and cleaning up a mess. What makes one work and the other play is my ATTITUDE about it. Drudgery can turn into pleasure if infused with happy thoughts. I can smile while I work. I can create a pleasing ambience for my tasks. I can listen to music or uplifting media while I work. I can look for the positive aspects of my chore. “You must love your work, and not be always looking over the edge of it, wanting your play to begin” (George Eliot). Since work absorbs the majority of hours in each day, I want to learn how to more fully enjoy it. With a twist of attitude I can turn my work into play, making it one more Reason to Rejoice!
I know something of the colossal EFFORT parents give while rearing children to become responsible adults. Yet our children don’t understand this concept until they become parents themselves. I embrace the truth that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are “united in purpose, in their love for us, and in the WORK they are doing in our behalf” (Robert D. Hales). We are like toddlers, getting ourselves into dangerous situations as we explore our mortal world. Just as earthly parents keep a constant vigil on their accident-prone toddlers, we, as Heavenly Father’s children, are constantly watched, rescued, redirected, disciplined, taught, comforted, fed, washed, and nurtured by divine hands. Someday when our vision is expanded to see all, we’ll likely be astounded to recognize the patient, loving WORK performed in our behalf. “The ultimate goal, the purpose of all God’s work, is not merely to save us from death and hell, as wonderful as that is in itself. The ultimate goal for sons and daughters is to grow up to be what their parents are” (Stephen Robinson). God is teaching me, step by step, to grow up to become like Him, providing every needful thing. I appreciate my Father’s WORK to get me there.
Bent almost in half and barely able to walk, an old man bagged groceries at our local supermarket. He shuffled through the parking lot and insisted on lifting the heavy sacks into my trunk. Smiling, he turned to me while holding his back and exclaimed, “Isn’t it a beautiful day to work!” Through the years I’ve remembered these words and the light in the old man’s face. I was beginning to see a needed lesson to be learned by his example—reinforced while reading this line from George Eliot’s book, Middlemarch: “You must love your work, and not be always looking over the edge of it, wanting your play to begin.” At the time I was teaching school and doing just that—looking over the edge of my frenzied days to the anticipated relief of weekends. So I decided to change my attitude about work. First, I tried to see a spiritual component in every task, allowing the Lord’s spirit to work through me to lift and help others. That’s when it became a joy rather than just a job—a delight rather than drudgery. God promised, “I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs” (Mosiah 24:14). It is the Lord’s gift to lift my burdens as I try to be His emissary. I am grateful for hard things that make me grow as well as soft moments that nourish the soul.