The Messy Middle—when you’re not flourishing

My three sons are now enjoying the zenith of their youth. With thick hair on their heads, they readily revel in highlighting their dad’s graying, thinning, Friar Tuck up top and his less-than bulging biceps. I remind them that I can still take them any day in a wrestling match. They grin and sport a “We wouldn’t want to hurt you; we still need your paycheck” look.

This summer alone, my two oldest are adventuring for work and mission in Los Angeles, Port-Au-Prince, Moscow, and D.C. If he’s lucky, their father might trip off to New Jersey some evening if there’s a little gas remaining in a vehicle. Sure signs of my own middle age on Middle-earth.

That’s all tongue-in-cheek. Really. I’m seriously thrilled my boys are flourishing. And there’s our beloved buzzword. It’s everywhere these days, zooming about in the titles, texts, subtitles, and subtexts of the latest, greatest, brightest, and mightiest of current thinking on the good work and Good News for our desperate world.

“God wants humans to flourish.”

That’s true. I concur that from the earliest pages of the Gospel story to the final shout of Revelation’s victory, God is working for his humans and all creation to experience redeemed flourishing—all for his glory.

But my heart is aching these days for the messy middle where most of us spend so much of life. What about the hard-working entrepreneur whose best-made strategies seem to produce zilch in profits five years in a row? What about the uber-creative, aspiring artist who can’t land an agent or garner more than fifty followers on Twitter? What about my beautiful friend from high school who’s passionately checking off her bucket list as she battles cancer? And there’s my friend serving in that stifling hot, undisclosed location on the other side of the globe, laboring to learn a new language, to make new friends with Muslims and somehow make ends meet—all for the good of Jesus’ kingdom work.

I’ve been reminded lately that this messy middle—the graying, not-so-flourishing places where most of us live most of life—can actually be a very good place. Dusty words from the old prophet Habakkuk supply some beautiful ugly perspective:

“Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls:

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.

The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places.” —Habakkuk 3:17-19 (KJV)

Such vivid description of NOT flourishing! But right there, Habakkuk made the choice to rejoice and find his strength in the LORD God.

How do we become such joy curators & joy carriers, especially when it feels like we are not flourishing? Here are 7 ideas you might find empowering in the messy middle:

Create more holidays! Recall that holidays were originally HOLY days, like Sabbath and festivals. Why such intentional plans? God himself celebrates, delights, and gushes joy, even at the end of each day of Creation (see Genesis 1-2)!

Celebrate thanksgiving daily, not just in November. Deliberately make lists of situations, people, and provisions for which you are grateful. It’s tough to stay stuck in doom and gloom, pessimism and skepticism, when you are reflecting thanks.

Laugh on wholesome humor. If you need a kick-starter, go watch a couple clips from Michael Jr. or Tim Hawkins on YouTube. Get ready to laugh.

Hang out with joyful people. They are contagious!

Break from your devices. Sometimes, we think we’re not flourishing because we’re stuck playing comparison games with everyone else’s stunningly beautiful lives as portrayed on Fakebook and Instacram. Admit it; you might need a break.

Bless and serve others! There is something SO uplifting, therapeutic, Jesus-like, and joy-producing about deliberately focusing on other people’s needs, interests, and opportunities.

Start now. Choose joy in the present! Psalm 118:24-25 motivates us: “The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad. Lord, save us! Lord, grant us success!” (NIV)

Even in such messy middle, those seasons when it seems like our work and overall life is not flourishing, we can make our bigger discovery—this choice to rejoice. We can find fresh strength in Christ. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll discover there’s actually something new beginning to flourish in our souls!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Cheesy is Your Job?

I love cheese! In our kitchen, cheese is often employed at all three meals of the day (Yes, even at breakfast on my bagel with an egg and pepperoni). Cheese makes everything taste better! Apparently unbeknown to many of us, we have been sprinkling our spaghetti and meatballs with a bit more than the green and red canisters claim.

Stunning news broke last October. The president of Castle Cheese in Slippery Rock, PA was sentenced to two hundred hours of community service, a five thousand dollar fine, and three years probation. The offense? Her company was caught selling Parmesan cheese that was not fully cheese.

Both the U.S. FDA and IRS raided Castle Cheese’s facility in early 2013 and discovered their products included substitute ingredients such as cellulose, an additive produced from wood pulp. The problem of adulterated cheese is not limited to Castle’s plant. A Bloomberg News report in February 2016 cited broad-based, nationwide test results of various companies claiming to sell 100 percent grated Parmesan. An independent lab found cellulose levels as high as 8.8 percent.[1]

What’s the big deal, besides my gag reflex at the thought of digesting wood chips with my pasta? Why such public outcry and legal proceedings? Two correlating issues are in play, issues that actually hold big personal implications for our own jobs every day.

First, integrity in business is at stake. What do we expect to be produced by a cheese company? Well, um, cheese please. (And though some cellulose supposedly serves as a non-clumping agent, our collective conscience demands that what they say on their label will truly be what they are really selling.) Before we get too high and mighty, judging the cheese makers’ false blend, let’s take stock of our own work products and services. Our customers and clients expect nothing less of our ingenuity, time investments, and relational focus.

Will we step up as leaders, to design and deliver our most creative, thoughtful, and empowering goods and services? We are amazingly created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-28) and whatever our daily tasks, we are called to serve the Lord Christ (Colossians 3:23-24). With such divine identity motivating us, there can be an ever-growing uptick in the quality and integrity with which we work.

Second, there’s a crucial link between such authentic excellence and our witness for Christ. Tom Nelson urges us: “The excellence of our work often gives us the credibility to speak of the excellence of our Lord Jesus and to share the good news of the gospel with our coworkers.”[2] We want to be sure that with both our words and our goods, we are serving up beautiful, deliciously genuine helpings of the gospel!

Bottom line: No wood filler in our work.

Let’s make certain our jobs are very cheesy!

 

 

 

 

[1]https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-10-11/cheese-executive-gets-probation-fine-for-fake-parmesan

[2]Tom Nelson. Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 96.

Paperwork OR Peoplework? You’re probably PARALYZING your productivity!

I was first asked the insidious question many years ago as a student in a leadership workshop: “Which are you?” I naively assumed it was a valid question, a thoughtful call for leadership categorization.

HGTV’s hit show insists their contestants “Love it OR List it.”

People are commonly either “dog people OR cat people.”

As a passionate coffee lover, I often encounter folks who are either “coffee lovers OR tea lovers.” I rarely meet someone who claims allegiance to both beverages. (And anyway, how could a tea lover also appreciate coffee? I say you’re either strong OR wimpy.)

So which are you? Tasks and details-oriented OR people-oriented and more contemplative?

Either-or thinking flows naturally in so many arenas of life. BUT when it comes to work life, I believe our productivity often suffers from such either-or attitudes and actions. We say things like:

“I thrive on relationships and time well-spent with others. C’mon, pour more coffee. Let’s chat, build trust, and bask in the process. But please, I don’t do the administrative stuff.” The result? There’s usually great talk with others, but little if anything actually gets produced.

Another coworker might declare, “Bring on the tasks, strategies, and lists. Divide and conquer! But please, oh please, don’t make me work with other people!” Such go-getter leaders insist: “I push, drive, and accomplish. I’m HIGH D, baby! That’s me. So cut the relational crap. Let’s just get ‘er done!” And what’s the outcome? Great accomplishments abound, but there’s usually a serious body count in the process. (Even if it’s not right away, the carnage happens over time.)

“Tasks and deets” OR “people and contemplation?” Workplace assessments, personality profiles, and job satisfaction surveys often force people into such categorical buckets.

What if God’s view is much more integrated? When we analyze three of Holy Scripture’s hallmark work scenes, we make a unique discovery.

Work Scene 1: In the biblical book of Genesis, chapters 1 and 2, we find a detailed, poetic, methodical list of day-by-day accomplishments. There is no doubt about it—God is orderly and very strategic in sequence. AND in this same report, humans and our subsequent relationships—both with God and one another—prove to be the apex of the Creation encounter (Gen 1:26-2:3). God’s work cannot be tightly filed into either-or folders. God does BOTH.

Work Scene 2: When instructions are given for the building of the Hebrew Tabernacle during the Israelites’ wilderness wandering (Exodus, chapters 25-30), the Lord supplied a serious task list. (Admit it, many of us have lost it right here, our best Bible read-thru momentum has gone up in flames. ZZZZZZ.) We dare not miss the beautiful reality that God’s tedious tabernacle details culminate with a passionate focus on the skilled craftsmen named Bezalel and Oholiab. It was God’s oh-so-personal impartation of his Spirit that empowered them to accomplish their tasks. God’s work cannot be tightly filed into either-or folders. God does BOTH.

Work Scene 3: The Gospel accounts reveal God’s Son, Jesus, working with similar modus operandi. Christ remarkably blended accomplishment of tasks, his focus on details with his priority for people and relational/contemplative cultivation (See Mark’s Gospel, chapter 6, verses 30-44 for Jesus’ both-and blend in this story. Five thousand+ people enjoy an amazing picnic!). The God-Man did both.

If you’re more of a task-oriented person, marvelous! Bridges would collapse without the engineers and code enforcers. Cars and trucks would not make it down the road one mile if we lacked auto designers and mechanics. You rock! Local and global economies would crash without the pencil pushers and number crunchers. God’s work in this world needs you. We need you and your penchant for spreadsheets and schematics. We applaud you!

And there are those of you who are all about the conversations, extended times of deeper contemplation, and fostering dynamic connections. You lunch meeting experts and relational gurus, thank you! You keep us caring, encouraging, feeling, healing, networking, learning, and growing. God’s work in this world needs you. We need you and your bent toward conversing and flourishing with others.

But over the years, I’ve observed: Most of the most effective leaders deliberately develop a skillful blend. They’ve learned to do the dance between details and people. They resist the bog-down and paralysis that often comes with either-or thinking. How can we do that in our own businesses and workplace leadership?

  • Push back against your own either-or thinking. You’re seriously limiting your own potential and the productivity of your business when you willingly decide it has to be either-or. Instead, embrace attitudes and daily patterns that involve both strategic tasks AND loving conversations with people. Dare to embrace this bolder, image-of-God reality. You CAN do both!
  • Don’t aim for perfect balance in this crucial leadership choice. Balance is a ridiculous pursuit. Instead, shoot for a God-like blend, skillfully choosing between people and tasks as opportunities emerge. Since the Lord is our ultimate example of a creative leader and flourishing worker, let’s dare to cultivate such a tasks-people blend in our workplace approaches.
  • If you’re more task-oriented, deliberately schedule more people time. Hans Finzel warns us about “putting paperwork before peoplework.” (The Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make, chapter 2) When you create greater margin for relational cultivation and reflective contemplation, you’ll likely see an exponential increase in your quality of connectedness with others and subsequent productivity in teamwork.
  • People sometimes ask me how I get so much done while being strongly relational in my approach. I smile and tell them my secret weapon. I make aggressive task lists. Now because I personally bristle at the thought of being too task-oriented, I label my uber-full weekly list as “OPPORTUNITIES this Week.” (You’re probably chuckling and calling me out: “Okay, Pletch is crazy—just playing a semantics game.” But hey, it works for me. Really!) And the silver bullet is this: My “OPPORTUNITIES” list always includes more people with whom I’m aiming to connect, equip, and cultivate.

What have you found best helps you push back the either-or approach and more fully live out God’s beautiful blend of details and people?  

How Do You REALLY Feel About Your Workweek?

Workweekcartoon

The cartoon hangs in one of my favorite pizza shops. As I pay for my pizza or hoagies, I can’t help but chuckle. Each week, we ride a wild roller coaster of emotions related to our workplaces. And honestly, who among us doesn’t live for the weekend?

But WHAT IF that could be different? Consider these possibilities:

  • What if you gained a renewed attitude and learned to bring meaning to your tasks and appointments, instead of striving to find meaning in your daily work?[1]
  • What if this renewed outlook, bringing meaning to your work, could be found in the wondrous reality that we each reflect God’s image? After all, we are God’s co-creators and coworkers, vital leaders and culture makers in the rhythm of our daily tasks (Genesis 1:27-31). (I too quickly forget this, making everything seem way too mundane!)
  • What if we could discover fresh passion, deeply entrusting the work of our hands to God’s blessings and favor, doing our very best for his glory, and ultimately trusting him for productive outcomes (Psalm 90:16-17 & John 15:4-5)?
  • What if your work-time outlook was infused with the fresh realization that you are daily serving Christ in whatever you do? As a result, you can work at it heartily (Colossians 3:23-24).
  • What if you discover a renewed joy in your calling and gifting? In his winsome book, Loving Monday, John D. Beckett asserts:

“We can be called to the arts, to athletics, to government service or to business. If it is God’s call, it is a legitimate and high calling. In other words, you can be an ‘ordained’ plumber! People called to business have many opportunities for service unavailable to those who are specifically focused on ministry vocations.”[2]

What if we were to uncover the start of renewed passion and childlike joy? We might just start loving the opportunities we encounter every Monday through Friday!

For further exploration of how you can better navigate your own emotions about your workweek, check out my new book, co-authored with my mother, Holly Hall-Pletcher. EmotiConversations: Working through Our Deepest Places. It’s available at wipfandstock.com, amazon.com, and other favorite booksellers.

Print

[1]Bonnie Wurzbacher, as quoted by Christian Overman in God’s Pleasure at Work: Bridging the Sacred-Secular Divide, p. 16.

[2]John D. Beckett. Loving Monday: Succeeding in Business Without Selling Your Soul, p. 96.

Orange Explodes—how to exponentially increase your creativity

Orange Fall Leaves

Call me ridiculous, but I must confess childlike delight. On my morning run, I caught first glimpses of seasonal beauty breaking through on the landscape. It’s early October, so I should not be surprised, but I’m still a kid in serious awe each autumn. Slowly descending a hill, there I spied it. Just atop a cluster of trees, an explosion of burnt-orange leaves. Within the next ten hours, I began seeing similar deep hues dusting other tree lines, including a fresh blast of golden mums and pumpkins, now gracing ground level in flowerbeds everywhere. Harvest orange has arrived for the season, in all its amazing glory.

Most of us love fall colors and find ourselves in awe at the creativity that emerges with the season. And it’s not just the leaves and overall fall decor. We experience it via multiple sights, sounds, and flavors. (Did I mention pumpkin spice coffee and salted caramel mochas?)

With such applause for fall creativity, there are moments I wonder . . .

  • How could I personally be more creative in my approach to projects?
  • Are there ways to gather more and better ideas?
  • How do I inspire our team in order to increase our skills in creative thinking?
  • ‘Any chance we can move out of “stuck in a rut” and “bored stiff?”

Here’s an arena where I’m constantly aiming to stretch and grow. Throughout my leadership experiences, I’ve found these ideas are extremely useful in exponentially increasing creativity.

Make time for story time!

I had heard of this practice, but rarely ever actually practiced it. So this past year, I have started to more regularly storyboard. It’s proving to be simple, profound, fun, and amazingly productive. I gather oversized whiteboard paper and various colors of Sharpie markers. At the top of several sheets, I label the various sections, breakdowns, chapters, or pivotal movements. Then, I just start splashing thoughts—somewhat color-coded—and brush stroking ideas under each heading. Along the way, we constantly push the envelope by asking “what if” questions and otherwise challenging assumptions.

I LOVE to use the “what if” question. It opens new doors, breaks through stereotypes, keeps people dreaming, and stretches the boarders in extra-good ways for leaders. When I’m done, I usually have six to ten sheets hanging on a wall, full of fresh ideas from which to choose. Such an exercise can be done either on my own or with our team. This past year, we’ve used storyboarding to deliberately design big initiatives, a fresh series of talks, and other exciting projects.

Go play!

Richard Allen Farmer urges: “The person who would be authentically creative must not despise the power of play. In our fun we see parts of ourselves we do not normally see; we get a different perspective on an old problem. We grab hold of images to which we would otherwise not have access.”[1]

In the 1990’s, Nissan was attempting a fresh breakthrough in design for their popular Pathfinder SUV. Jerry Hirshberg, head of Nissan’s U.S. design studio at the time, sensed one afternoon that his team was bogging down in frustration and blocked conceptual creativity. His solution was nothing short of genius. He led the company’s entire staff, including the shop, secretaries, and maintenance crew in playing hooky to go to the movies for the afternoon. Hirshberg delightfully reported: “Upon returning from the film, there was much chatter among the staff about how delicious it had been to leave . . . knowing we had been ‘baad’ together. As everyone returned to their work . . . tension in the building began to dissipate. Within days the ideas again started flowing, knotty problem areas unraveled, and the design began to lead the designers, a sure sign that a strong concept was emerging.”[2]

Here’s a must-do on a regular basis with your team, especially when you sense you might be stuck in a deep rut, paralyzed by group-think, or otherwise experiencing a serious case of no-new-idea-itus.

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

Take big cues from your Creator!

The opening pages of God’s story demonstrate the magnificent collages and cadence of creation (Genesis 1). We are wondrously treated to an encounter where God is the most creative design worker ever. With completion of his oh-so-deliberate, colorful accomplishments each day, he pauses to reflect and celebrate. “And it was good!”

At the culmination of Day Six, humans were created in God’s likeness, his very image. Consider this: the imago Dei included our commission to be “fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth”—to “rule and reign” over it all. ‘No doubt about it, we were called to be creative workers, just like our oh-so-creative God.

When our boys were young, we took them to the circus. One of my favorite features was watching the elephant tricks. The crowd roared in laughter and thunderous applause. You have to admit, an elephant is a sure sign that God possesses a sense of humor as well as one mighty creativity quotient. But then ponder how the humans tamed and trained, “ruled and reigned” over the massive creature, so as to wildly entertain a tent full of other humans!

We can draw abundant motivation by remembering God’s amazing original designs, and then get motivated by the realization: we each possess the imago Dei. His very image and his call have come to you and to me.

What might happen? What if we hear God urging us in fresh ways?

“Create with panache. Work with style. Rule your domain with generous imagination. Make things wonderful. Organize with flair. Be boldly intentional. Design beautiful things. Make life healthier, humorous, holistic, and holy. Above all, mimic me and be lavishly redemptive. And when in doubt, choose orange!”

 

[1]Richard Allen Farmer, It Won’t Fly If You Don’t Try OR How to Let Your Creative Genius Take Flight. (Portland, Multnomah) 1992, p. 68.

[2]Jerry Hirshberg, The Creative Priority: Driving Innovative Business in the Real World. (New York: Harper Business) 1998, p. 87-89.

Rolling Back to Work (how to greet your dreaded fall schedule with greater joy)

Rollercoaster in clouds

I LOVE riding roller coasters, and I love the fact that my boys sincerely enjoy jumping on to join me. This was not always the case. I found a picture from several years back. We were trying to convince one son that the biggest coaster at Hershey Park would be a joy to ride. He stood in line waiting, growing more anxious, dreading every inch of the track, and longing to bail out. We managed to keep him in line, got him to ride, and he finished with a big smile. (Yes, this is before and after.)

Hershey Joel and JarodHershey Joel and Jarod after

Contemplate the concept of coasters. We can’t help but conclude it’s a bit crazy. Think about it. You willingly place your body into this large contraption of metal, plastic, wood, bolts, and thousands of moving parts. The aim of this device is to hurtle you down the tracks, throw you into loops, then send you screaming until your voice is hoarse. It’s really rather awesome and requires a crazy amount of faith.

‘Truth is, how we roll back into fall’s work-school schedule requires similar trust and adventuresome perspective.

I could read it in many friends’ eyes and hear it in their voices this week. It seems we are all plunging down the tracks too fast, headed back toward normal workweeks and ferociously full schedules once again. Some of us feel dread, disappointment, and self-induced preliminary stress over soon-to-be early wake-ups, oh-too-predictable meeting schedules, and an overall return to the ridiculously full-throttle pace. Sarcastically, we say, “I just cannot wait to get back to my marvelous, wonderful, oh-so-fulfilling daily grind.”

How do we roll in healthier ways? Is it possible to discover a different perspective when we already feel overwhelmed? How will we roll into the tedious tasks, piles of projects, and fall’s spike in work expectations?

Consider this provocative point of wisdom from Proverbs 16:3. “Commit your work to the LORD, and your plans will be established.”

Proverb on Work-Commit

This lead off, ancient Hebrew word “commit” conveys a potent, picturesque concept. Among Scriptural incidents, the word was used of rolling a boulder over the door of a cave to incarcerate enemy kings (Joshua 10:18). This same word played a pivotal role in the covenant scene for the Israelites of Joshua’s day, as they intentionally and devotedly rolled back into practicing circumcision and experienced their guilty reproach being rolled away (Joshua 5:19).[1]

Proverbs 16:3 challenges us to COMMIT, to deliberately let our work concerns, plans, strategies, and worries roll toward God. We can commit to rolling our work issues, opportunities, and each endeavor in God’s direction, trusting Him to empower, infuse significance, and establish our plans. Rolling our trust His way can transform our attitudes from dread and gloom to adventure and productivity.

Consider three simple yet profound ideas for how to roll stronger as you head back to the normal full schedule for the work-school routine.

With start of fall, start a new habit. Commit your work to the Lord with start-of-the-day prayer. Too many mornings, we rush into our mad dash, forgetting to actually tap into our Lead Consultant’s great guidance. What might happen if we slow down at the start, to actually roll our concerns, challenges, and opportunities in His direction? Such transference of trust can lead to a deeply personal transformation, bringing greater peace and joy.

Commit to go God’s way—follow His directions—in all you do and say all day. As you trust Him and consult His Word, He will supply you with real-time wisdom, commands, principles and precepts that challenge the norm, set you on new paths, and call you into fresh opportunities for influence. Determine and say, “Lord, each step of my workday, I’ll roll your way!”

Roll into your fall work and full schedule with a fresh sense of adventure. Commit to greater productivity, creativity, and pursuing God’s mission. It’s wonderful to realize that God planned long ago for us to engage in purposeful, creative, difference-making work (Genesis 2:15, Ephesians 2:10, and Colossians 3:23-24).[2] When we truly sense how our daily work can bring God glory and reach others with his redemptive plans, even the seemingly mundane, thankless tasks and pressurized schedules can take on serious joy and significance.

With such deliberate prayer and a greater sense of adventure with God, we can be “on a roll” with fall’s work, bringing God glory with greater productivity—experiencing almost as much joy as riding roller coasters. Instead of dreading it, let’s revel in it. There is phenomenal opportunity for our fall endeavors to bring him greater glory!

 

 

 

 

[1]Harris, Archer, and Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, (Chicago: Moody Press), vol. 1, 162.

[2]Wayne Grudem, “How Business In Itself Can Glorify God,” On Kingdom Business: Transforming Missions Through Entrepreneurial Strategies (Wheaton: Crossway), 132-133.

Working with Dad

Dad & Dumptruck

I heard Dad say it often. “I love to work!” He seldom camped on a single profession. Some dubbed him “scattered, shot-gun-like, a jack of all trades.” Reality—he was skillfully gifted in a variety of arenas. His sundry mix of roles included commercial coach bus driver, car salesperson, pastor-teacher, camp director, entrepreneurial auto repairman, truck driver, and avid church ministry volunteer.

I often wondered: Did some of Dad’s work matter more or less than those jobs that were churchy, distinctly ministry-oriented? Randy Kilgore lends holistic insight: “God is at work in every corner of creation, not just the church. He is present in the stock market and the supermarket . . . in the assembly line and the picket line. When we become one with Christ, we join Him where He is already at work.”[1]

MadetoMatter

Ironically, many of my best father-son memories involve working with Dad. I usually grumbled under my breath and held such labor in low regard. Little did I know that these sweaty experiences would supply formative personal building blocks for my own outlook on work’s significance.

I mowed grass for the first time when I was seven. Dad walked immediately behind me, his hands giving the push right next to mine. My chin barely touched the lawnmower’s top bar; toes were mere centimeters from the blade. (I’m fairly certain there is a statute of limitation on child endangerment.) I was thrilled at such a big opportunity, failing to fathom the agonizing years of mowing yet to come.

While living in rural MI, our family worked a small hobby farm of animals and crops. I rose at 6 a.m. each morning—bright sun or blowing snow—to perform a vast list of smelly, grimy chores. Gather eggs, slop hogs, milk goats, and clean stalls. The same monotonous routine took place around 5:30 p.m. each evening. “’Builds character, Son. ‘Builds character.”

Dad owned a ’61 GMC pickup. The summer I was twelve, we worked tediously at replacing the motor and refinishing the body. I assisted by handing Dad grimy tools, crawling in and out from under the truck, holding greasy parts in place, sanding fenders, guzzling iced tea, and pretending to help Dad solve what seemed like endless setbacks. I was big stuff.

Saturday mornings during high school, I would drag my lazy bones out of bed to join Dad for breakfast and the big job of visitation. Our church had a bus ministry that transported children to church on Sunday mornings. In order to prime the pump, reach out to families (and hopefully boost Sunday attendance), we would visit each child’s family. Every Saturday was a new people adventure, an all-out foray into a foreign land. Houses were jungles filled with rambunctious breakfasts, blaring cartoons, and stinky furniture—plenty of drama and trauma, the likes of which I had never beheld.

Dad also taught me how to run a chainsaw, chop logs, build a fire, bale hay, change a tire, and quickly prepare to deliver an encouraging faith talk for a ministry team.

Thirty years later, I realize I also learned big building blocks that proved formative to my own work perspective. These include:

  • Every job has tedious, mundane tasks. Don’t gripe. Just do them; then you can ride bike, play Atari, build the tree fort, or read a book.
  • Worst first. This is now one of my own favorite axioms, and my children groan. Set out early to conquer the least fun jobs. Then you can do the tasks you actually enjoy.
  • Hard work can be fun. Your attitude makes all the difference.
  • God is crazy about people. He especially loves the ones with smelly couches who yell at their kids while burning waffles on Saturday mornings.
  • Creativity is good and God-like (Genesis 1-2). Dad repainted the GMC truck multiple times. It started out banana yellow, shifted to classic black with an orange tiger stripe, and finished as candy apple red with a metallic fleck (my personal favorite, because I was a part of that final paint job). Creativity is a joy-filled tool to be employed in virtually any job, a genuine gateway to ingenuity.

Greg Forster declares a vibrant connection between our Heavenly Father’s work and our work: “We can be fruitful because we are made in the image of a Father who creates . . . we do work within the universe he produced to produce blessings within it.”[2]

Joyfortheworldwrench

Call it rose-colored glasses, but I now realize that working with Dad was truly good. And I find great encouragement in realizing I am in good company. Christ held a very near-and-dear perspective regarding his Father and his Father’s work. When accused of desecrating the Sabbath, he taunted the Pharisees with his own Father’s monster work ethic. “My father is always working . . .” (John 5:16-17) And Christ went on to explain that for insight, direction, and agenda, he takes his cues from his Father. “. . . the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees the Father doing . . . the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed.” (John 5:19-20)

When I reflect on the works accomplished by both of my Fathers, I am indeed amazed and inspired anew to follow their lead.

[1]Randy Kilgore. Made to Matter: Devotions for Working Christians. Grand Rapids: Discovery House, 2008, p. 130.

[2]Greg Forster. Joy for the World: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence & Can Begin Rebuilding It. Wheaton: Crossway, 2014, p. 221.