Thursday, September 25, 2008

Doing One Thing Well (Work in the Spirit, Part 3)

Plato grasped the many benefits of the division of labor very well when he said that "all things are produced more plentifully and easily and of a better quality when one man does one thing which is natural to him and does it at the right time, and leaves other things" (31).

I am not a Supermom. I refuse to ever be a Supermom. I love my son, but I cannot do it all. I am a full time wife, mom, employee, and student. He always has clean clothes (though sometimes he has to wear jeans in shorts weather), but his room is another story. For me to do all of these things, something has to drop. As a result, my house usually looks like it's been hit by a tornado. Last night, I did squat. Actually, last night I did the absolute most important thing in the world - I sat on the couch with Liam cuddled in my lap. We read books, we talked to grandma and papa on the phone, and we tickled each other. I had other things I should have been doing, but my priority was him.

We are not Superhumans, and no individual can do everything. Oh, we try. And then we get severely burned out, or depressed, or angry at others. There are a million and one things you can do in a day, but you only have 24 hours to do them. Some of you don't get enough sleep or relaxation as it is (you know who you are).

Division of labor is a good thing. Think about everything you'd have to do if we had to do everything ourselves. Make a peanut butter sandwich? Not so easy when you have to make the bread and the peanut butter on your own. Especially not so easy when you have to grow the peanuts, wheat (flour), sugarcane (sugar), vegetables (for veg oil), and other assorted grains that go into bread. Add jelly to the mix, and you're screwed. With division of labor, you can pay someone else to make the bread and peanut butter for you, saving you time and energy to do whatever it is you do all day. This is what keeps all those companies in business, and allows us to buy the things we need - like peanut butter and bread.

But Plato's emphasis wasn't on making money; it was on someone focusing her time and attention on making one thing of a better quality and more plentifully, because making that thing is natural to her, it's done at the right time, and she leaves other thing for others to do.

Volf ties this in with a theology of work because this ties in very well with spiritual gifts. We don't all have the same gifts. There are things I can do, like administration and teaching, but they aren't my primary gifts and I don't really enjoy doing them. On the other hand, two of my top gifts seem to be giving and mercy - so, if you want my help, show me pictures of starving people or a homeless man sleeping on the street in the middle of February. You'll get your money (just make sure to have some Kleenex handy). The point is that there are some things we should do - must do - because we have the gifts and skills to do them, and there are some things we should leave alone because we are neither gifted nor talented in those areas. Plumbers don't build houses and carpenters don't fix toilets. If you are gifted in evangelism, why would you even think about doing administration stuff?

Using our gifts is a natural process. I am a better giver than my husband, but he is better at showing hospitality to others than I am. Where one of us leaves something, another will do that. In this way, we all fit together, much like a puzzle. It's a complete picture when our grooves and lines fit together and not one of us is missing.

What you are gifted to do, do and do it well. Leave the rest to those of us who have those gifts.

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