My son has this book that he loves called The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge. In the book, the little red lighthouse is proud of its job sending out beacons of light to protect the boats in the river from the rocky shores. One day, a crew of men appears:
Every day [the little red lighthouse] watched the strange new gray thing beside it grow and grow. Huge towers seemed to touch the sky. Strong loops of steel swept across the river.
How big it was!
A great gray bridge, spanning the Hudson River from shore to shore. It made the little red lighthouse feel very, very small.
“Mommy, is the little red lighthouse sad?” my son asked one day after I read this passage to him.
“Yes, sweetie, it is,” I replied.
“But why?” he asked. (He is a three-year-old, after all.)
“Well, the lighthouse is afraid that he won’t have any work to do, now that the great gray bridge has been built. He’s afraid that there’s no job for him. And that makes him sad. It feels good to have a job to do, doesn’t it?”
I can honestly say that I’ve never before considered there to be any similarities between myself and a lighthouse. But in that moment, I could hardly perceive any differences. We all need a job to do; we all need to have work. It’s both a necessary part of our identity and also something that we were created to do.
Yes, the little red lighthouse is sad. The job that he was created for is being threatened.
The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. Genesis 2: 15
God created work, and he created man to do the work. Before the whole shebang with the serpent and the fruit-eating and sin coming into the world, work was not toilsome or a burden or a nuisance or frustrating. Work was a joy, a delight. Work was a calling, given to man by God. God gave work to man back when everything was perfect. It was only later that work turned sour.
We were made to work.
However, I think I’ve read more articles, had more conversations, and spent more time thinking about the problems of overworking than I have about the goodness of why we work.
After the great gray bridge (aka, the George Washington Bridge) is completed, a strong beam of light begins to flash from its towers.
“Now I am needed no longer,” thought the little red lighthouse. “My light is so little and this one so big!”
But that night, a fog rolls in. The man who tends the lighthouse and turns on its gas each night does not come. The little red lighthouse is worried and sad, thinking that it has been replaced. In the darkness, a tugboat crashes into the shore and lays wrecked on the rocks.
The great gray bridge called to the little red lighthouse:
“Little brother, where is your light?”
“Am I brother of yours, bridge?” wondered the lighthouse. “Your light was so bright that I thought mine was needed no more.”
“I call to the airplanes,” cried the bridge. “I flash to the ships of the air. But you are still master of the river. Quick, let your light shine again. Each to his own place, little brother!”
Soon after, the man comes to turn on the gas for the little red lighthouse. And the lighthouse is proud, once again, of its job. He has work to do, and his work is needed.
God created us with a desire to work – a need for work.
As a freelance musician and a freelance writer and a full-time mother, I am often tempted to compare my work to that of others.
I see the promotions that former colleagues are receiving and hear about the impressive careers of friends from conservatory. I read Washington Post articles by friends whose work I proofread in college writing courses. I watch my own husband’s performing career grow. And then I help my son learn to grate carrots for a carrot cake. I teach my daughter words: “bowl, spoon, ball, duck, hat.”
I often feel inadequate.
I feel inadequate not because I think that spending this time with my children, dedicating myself to the development of their characters and their minds is not worth it. I feel inadequate because society has taught me to compare, to judge, and to compete. I have learned that how much money I make (or don’t make) defines how “successful” or how “useful” I am. I have learned that how many books I’ve published or magazines I’ve written for or competitions I’ve won or concert tours I’ve been on signifies how talented and valuable I am.
It takes time to unlearn these untruths.
Each to his own place, little brother.
God gave us work. He created us for work and gave us a desire to work. But He did not create a hierarchy of work. When He worked to create the seas and the skies, He didn’t deem one better than the other. When He calls people to jobs – when He opens the door to become a mother or get a promotion, to sell real estate or preside in a court, to teach tennis lessons or clean the streets – He doesn’t judge or discriminate.
All work is important, and it’s important for all of us to work, in whatever way God lays before us.
Adam and Eve were gardeners, after all.
There’s a reason we want to work. We were designed for it. It’s important to work. It’s good to work. And all work is needed.
Each to his own place, little brother.