August 30, 2021
The misplaced sense of an experiential complexity unique to my life, which I routinely and sinfully posture, was exposed to the fullest extent last Wednesday at about 7:00 PM. As the agony of my wife’s labor – our first child – gradually escalated, even someone as self absorbed as me understood the limitations of my conceptual thinking abilities. I knew this was not the time to relay the self-talk, mental imagery, and positive focus strategies I utilized in the Equinox 100k ski race, though Christie herself employed my coaching at her side for this exact purpose. “Stay relaxed, just like you are doing mile repeats at Cole Park,” would have been a shared experience insufficient for the current state of affairs. A hand to grasp and spoken prayer were more meaningful contributions from this light-headed husband. That Christie’s trial of motherhood miles would transcend any athletic venture, even Owen Cassidy’s monastically torturous regimen en route to a fictional sub-four minute mile, was beyond evident. Alas, here we are, plunking out the column, needing to relate something to sports. I can hear Red Smith now clamoring with delight, “The column! The column!”
Labor is a lot like sports. Before accusing me of mansplaining, my claim comes from reliable sources. A late night text from my mom (a former champion runner) to the soon-to-be mother, read “It’s like an interval session, only the end prize is much better.” Personally, it seems like fishing lures stuck in your half-tights and a bowling ball lodged in your rectum are necessary details to complete the metaphor. Even our doctor presciently equated labor to a marathon, likely basing her belief in the succor of Christie’s endurance sports background in the ingrained understanding of toughness and discipline typically united runners. Athletes are willing to do the dirty work, no matter what, because it has to be done.
In life, when obligatory work marries purposeful joy, a labor of love is conceived in the fabric of our souls. Sadly, our world sees two camps: labor – work done for money, and ‘loves’ – things done for fun. Society’s false philosophy of work is a consequence of their false theology of work.
Colossians 3:23 states, “Whatever you do, work at it with all of your heart, as if working unto the Lord, and not for men.” Most people believe that if you aren’t providing for your family and/or receiving a paycheck, then you can’t call what you are doing work. The Bible defines work in light of eternal purposes. Paul does not command us to go the extra mile for money. We give wholehearted effort for one reason, and one reason only: because ultimately, we work for Christ. Therefore, a paycheck does not validate an enterprise. Playing video games is not a labor of love, and getting paid to do it doesn’t make it one. The same is true for your 9-5. Maximizing our capacity for excellence in a task, for Him, is what makes something a job – a labor of true love.
The level of quality in whatever task it is we are doing – fixing a fence, making a bed, preparing tax returns, or training for the local 5k – is commensurate with our belief in the truth of this verse. My parents, upon entering my disheveled 15-year old self’s room, would sometimes remark, “Clean like we’re hosting the President (it used to be meaningful).” Sometimes they were more direct – and more accurate – “Clean like you’re working for Christ.” The caliber of your craftsmanship is telling. You can’t be a steadfast believer and give less than 100%. If you truly believe your work on the fence, bed linens, taxes, or racecourse is for the King of Kings, you strive with a greater joy and at a higher level of excellence than if you don’t.
Sadly, many – even Christians – live their lives as slaves to a paycheck, eagerly anticipating a mystical stage known as retirement, where they no longer need to work. I believe reimbursement for misery isn’t the work-defining standard, which is why 1) I plan on never retiring and 2) I hope to retire immediately. I wish to retire from the financial burden of working a job for the sole purpose of provision and be free to put forth all of my efforts and time to the Colossians 3:23 mission in the avenue I select.
If you are making the proper conclusions, you realize that while on the one hand, I excluded some things from being a labor of love, the reality is that everything is actually a labor of love because Christ says that ALL things should be done as if being done unto Him and for His glory. You might not like to change the oil in the car, but you should do it as if working unto Christ, which means you need to be the best oil changer you can possibly be. Your day job might not be very fun, but since you are doing it for Christ, you ought to do it well. The most countercultural stance, even in supposedly Christian circles, isn’t my claim to strive for excellence, but rather the motivation for doing so. The roof over our heads isn’t the actual end all. Remember, Christ promises to feed the sparrows. We are to focus on sanctification – He’ll take care of the rest.
Athletes, artists, and parents more than anyone, understand what a labor of love truly is. Most pursue excellence in those paths without any sensible – by secular standards – feedback or return on investment, most certainly in a financial sense, unless you consider a new pair of breathable socks a fair wage for 3.5 hours of double poling.
Therefore, we must summon the fuel for our fires elsewhere. When we get out the door on a sub-zero Christmas morning for a seemingly fruitless 10-mile run, aunt Ethel is right to ask, “Why?” and most of us don’t have “Because Adidas pays to,” in our back pocket. We’d rather stay in our slippers, and drink hot cocoa, too, but we know what is required to achieve our very best, so we fight natural human impulses and embrace the windchill and impending frostbite. In actuality, we have a much better carrot.
Johannes Klaeob’s motivation to complete the dirty work of training is to cement his legacy as the greatest all-time. Pretty good motivation. The “why” for Jessie Diggins is that and female advancement, body image awareness, environmental issues, etc. Other’s train to put food on the table and money in their pockets. Legacy, social causes, environmental issues, and money are decent incentives, but not unshakeable. If our “why” is based in Colossians 3:23, our purpose fire has an insatiable fuel. Hence, “Search for Truth” precedes “play with a purpose” in the tagline at the top of this site. If aunt Ethel is willing to listen, this is how I’d answer her question between Christmas morning pre-training run coffee slurps.
When little hands grasp yours for the first time, and beady eyes stare back at you, I imagine mothers everywhere feel adequately rewarded for their labor. My mom was right: human life is a better reward than increased VO2 max. And eternal life is better than both.
May all of our labors of love be considered in light of eternity.