Shortly after giving birth to my grandson, my daughter was visited by a lactation consultant employed by the hospital. Although women’s bodies are designed to provide nutrition for their babies, many new mothers struggle through their first attempts at breastfeeding. Weary from labor and delivery and, perhaps, panicked and overwhelmed by the responsibility of caring for an infant, I am sure many a new mama is convinced she will cause her child to starve to death. The consultant who assisted my daughter patiently demonstrated positions and techniques she could use to coax life-giving nourishment into flowing from her body to her son.
Her consultant’s name was Bob.
And, at the risk of admitting gender bias, I had to ask, “How does a guy decide to pursue a career as a lactation consultant?”
“I was an Air Force medic,” he said, “stationed in Alaska.” The commanding officer of his unit wanted the women on base to receive support in learning how to breastfeed, so he ordered Bob to teach them. Although teaching women to breastfeed was the last thing Bob said he had wanted to do, he had no choice but to obey orders.
And I, for one, am so very grateful he did. Bob was patient, kind, and encouraging to my daughter, helping to ease her frustrations and calm her fears. As I watched him work with her I witnessed a man with a gift, clearly doing what he was put on this earth to do.
This month, some folks at The High Calling are reading and having a conversation about Tim Keller’s book Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work. Glynn Young is moderating this week’s discussion of the first four chapters which discuss: The Design of Work, The Dignity of Work, Work as Cultivation, and Work as Service. Citing Lester DeKoster, former professor and librarian at Calvin College, Keller writes:
. . . work is one of the ways we make ourselves useful to others, rather than just living a life for ourselves. Also, work is one of the ways we discover who we are, because it is through work that we come to understand our distinct abilities and gifts, a major component in our identities. (p. 38)
I doubt Bob ever imagined a career for himself as a lactation consultant. However, having obeyed his commanding officer’s orders, he discovered he possessed unique gifts through which he could serve others. In so doing, God has used him as a means of allowing new mothers and babies to flourish. And God use Bob as a source of blessing to my daughter, her husband, my grandson, and me.
All work has dignity, Keller argues, because God works and because he has called us to join him in his work of cultivating and restoring his good creation. Although our culture attaches differing levels of worth to particular kinds of work, often rewarding knowledge-based jobs more highly than those in the service sector, Keller allows no such distinction in assigning value to work. He notes that, in Genesis, God worked as a gardener and, in the New Testament, as a carpenter. In both kinds of work, God touched the stuff of creation. Keller writes:
No task is too small a vessel to hold the immense dignity of work given by God. Simple physical labor is God’s work no less than the formulation of theological truth. (p. 49)
Perhaps because I was mulling these chapters while waiting in the hospital, or perhaps because her labor and delivery took longer than I expected they would, I had time to notice and observe how many different kinds of work were involved in caring for my daughter. She was served by many beyond the nurses, doctors, residents, physician’s assistants, anesthesiologists, and technicians who cycled through her room offering compassionate care.
As I walked through the hospital, I saw its walls lined with plaques bearing names of wealthy donors who had provided the means to pay wages of those who built with steel and concrete and brick. Inside, I took note of workers transporting patients, delivering meals, cleaning hallways, and providing fresh linens to patient rooms. As I watched my daughter wheeled away for a C-section, I placed high value on those who had sterilized the instruments and room which were to be used. I was grateful for the minds behind the design of her hospital bed which was equipped with a number of outlets and ports for attaching medical equipment, as well as levers and devices that allowed her to alter her position for comfort. Somewhere, someone in a factory had produced bags of saline solution which were used to sustain and heal my daughter. Each kind of work I noticed, and probably many more I didn’t, was an instrument of blessing used by God for my daughter’s good.
As I read these chapters and mulled the many different kinds of work going on just within the setting of a hospital, I wondered how many of those I watched connected their occupations with service to God and others. I hope many within the church will read Keller’s book and begin to see how God uses their labor, of any kind, as a means of blessing to their neighbors.
We are to see work as a way of service to God and our neighbor, and so we should both choose and conduct our work in accordance with that purpose. The question regarding our choice of work is no longer “What will make me the most money and give me the most status?” The question must now be “How, with my existing abilities and opportunities, can I be of greatest service to other people, knowing what I do of God’s will and of human need?” (Keller, p. 67)
Read more and join the conversation about connecting faith and work over at The High Calling.
Also, if you are near the Pittsburgh area and want to experience a weekend of more than 2,500 college students and professionals engaging these ideas, check out the Jubilee Conference taking place February 15-17, 2013. The High Calling is proud to be a sponsor of this event.