Why work? (part 2)

Photo by khunaspix. Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
Photo by khunaspix. Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Gardening: what a wonderful pastime.

And what a terrible one.

For many years, my wife and I tried our hands at gardening. (Well, my wife, mostly. The division of labor was never equal. I guess I took the apostle Paul’s approach: I plant, another waters.) When we moved into our current home over 20 years ago, the back yard was a shambles. But we inherited three fruit trees: lemon, peach, pomegranate. Over the years, I added others. We also planted a variety of vegetables: tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, corn, string beans…the list goes on.

Every year, we would tend our fruit and vegetables, waiting eagerly for each to come into season. Especially the peaches. I learned in time to prune the tree properly, and we were rewarded with large, sweet fruit that made the store-bought ones taste like cardboard.

That’s the wonderful part of gardening, the part that keeps you working at it.

But there’s the other part. We knew, of course, that there would always be some hit-and-miss with each crop, but hoped that the pay-off would be worth the time and effort. It was a constant battle keeping chaos at bay. Little by little, chaos won. Whiteflies and bark beetles killed our pomegranate and plum trees, respectively. The dwarf satsuma contracted some unknown disease. Birds pecked our tomatoes to pieces. And our neighborhood is now so overrun with squirrels that they get almost all of our peaches before we do.

Then came the last straw. We had planted and nurtured several canes of berries; it took a couple of seasons before they were ready to produce a full harvest. With great anticipation, and visions of pie dancing in our heads, we watched hundreds of them ripen.

But one hot Southern California day killed them all. “Sun scald” they call it. One hot day.

All you frustrated gardeners out there, raise your hands. Yes, I see those tattered gloves.

Wonderful and terrible; blessing and curse. All of our work can be like that. Sure, there are solutions to some of the problems above, and we’re the wiser for our experience. But it’s not just a technical issue; it’s a theological one. The story of the garden of Eden tells us something about our human condition. We were created to work, and our labor can be still be fruitful — but not without some toil and frustration.

Note, however, that “work” doesn’t necessarily mean “job” or “career.” What we do for a paycheck is work, but not all work is for pay, and not all paid work is intrinsically meaningful. Surely, what we do for a living matters. But what matters more is how we do what we do, whether we’re paid for it or not: can all of our work be done as unto God?

Imagine this: one day, Eden will be restored. That’s the image we’re given in the very last chapter of the Bible, Revelation 22. And with that restoration, one hopes, comes a revitalization of work, the experience of fruitfulness without frustration.

Would it make any difference to how we work if we consistently pointed our imaginations in that direction? Would we be better able to bear the frustrations? Appreciate the moments of joy?

We must come to terms with the fact that in a world still in need of redemption, our work will never be all that we might wish it to be. But anticipating God’s future may help us take hold of what blessing we can in the present. Better yet, we might search for ways to work that would extend that blessing to others.

The garden can be maddening now. But one day, my peaches are going to be, well, heavenly.

And I might even be happy to share them with a squirrel or two.