On hard work

On Monday, I painted my bedroom. I figured it was a good way to spend my Labor Day. Aside from some expert advice from my dear roommate (thanks, Colleen!), I did it all by myself. Six sweaty hours of blue tape and paint flecks, and I am proud. My sore arms and hands and back and neck remind me of my new lavender walls that make my heart sing. And it got me thinking about hard work.

I like to work hard. I like the satisfaction of a job well done. I love that feeling of coming home after a long and productive day, sitting down to a well-deserved meal and turning in for a deep night’s sleep. There’s something especially gratifying about manual labor, about using my body to its fullest extent. And most of all, I like to work hard in order to succeed. In order to make progress, to have something to show for myself, to just plain get things done. Which is why I was troubled when I read this last week and why I have been mulling it over ever since:

“After [Jesus] had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.’ Simon said in reply, ‘Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.’” (Luke 5:4-5)

You see, I feel a bit like Simon these days. There are some ways in which I’ve been working hard and failing, or at least failing to see any results, facing setbacks more than making headway. It’s tiring. And I’ve never been fishing, but I imagine it must be exhausting, too. I can only imagine Simon’s frustration at hours of casting the nets again and again, only to yield absolutely nothing. Not even a minnow. And I imagine how he felt when Jesus asked him to get back in his boat. Simon had been standing by the lake, washing his nets. Probably dejected from his fruitless night of labor. Yearning to return home, clean up, and rest.

But Jesus’ presence changes everything. How often He redefines our plans, transforms our pessimism, and gives new life we didn’t think possible. He had been by the lake teaching the crowds, crowds that were pushing in on Him to hear His every word. I wonder what Simon thought. I wonder if he, too, was straining to hear from his fishing boat, or if he was so preoccupied with the task at hand that he didn’t give Jesus a second thought. Either way, Jesus came to encounter him. He got in Simon’s boat and asked him to put out a short distance from the shore, in order to teach the crowds from there. I’m so curious to know what He taught from the boat. What did Simon hear that prepared him for that crucial “but”? Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets. I don’t mean to be crude, but that is the best “but” ever. It’s a game changer. And whatever Jesus said, His words opened Simon’s heart and led him to say “no” to himself and “yes” to his Master. Hard work wasn’t what Simon truly needed; it was a Savior.

And here’s the part that gets me: Jesus allowed Simon to experience unimaginable success after very little effort. He rewarded him with a miraculous catch of fish, a catch he’d been longing for, only to ask him to leave it all behind. He asked of Simon utter detachment from the very thing he’d devoted his life to until that very moment. And it makes me wonder at how attached I am to my own success, how entitled I feel to the results I work for, how perplexed I am when things don’t go my way. How accustomed I am to thinking the way the world does. But Jesus asks something different—He always does. He asks me to attach myself to Him. So that, in success or failure, hard work or rest, I will praise Him. Love Him. Serve Him. That’s the way I want to live.

Reflecting on this passage, a wise priest recently said, “What matters is not the result, but that we are doing the will of God.” To my ambitious self, those words are hard to swallow. But oh, how I want to live by them. So, Jesus, let my hard work—lavender walls and all—be first and foremost for You.





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