Why hidden work matters to God
When you ate your breakfast this morning, did you think about the person who bought the groceries that made your morning possible? What about your clean clothes or mowed yard — did you notice the person who did those things? Maybe you are that person, but maybe you are married to that person. Regardless of who did the work, the reality is that there are many unseen things that happen throughout our days that keep our lives going. There are ordinary things that we do, that often go unnoticed, but that does not remove the value they bring to our lives.
Our homes, churches, communities, and neighborhoods are upheld by hidden, ordinary work. And in a society that often places value on work based on compensation, not contribution, I want to reframe the work conversation and bring it back to what God intended work to be about — bearing his image to a watching world.
One of the primary reasons I wrote Glory in the Ordinary is because I believe all work (paid and unpaid) brings glory to God. God made us to work. He works and we reflect him in our work in the world that he made. But I also know I’m a product of a culture that places value on certain types of work, namely paid or higher paid work. I don’t do a lot of paid work in a given day. Your churches are filled with people like me. Our days consist of just as much work as your spouse or friend who works in the marketplace, but for the most part people don’t see what we do. The impact of our work is long-term, so it’s hard to quantify how it contributes anything good to society (unless you measure in years, not days or weeks).
It’s important work. It’s needed work. It is also hidden work, and my hope in this conversation is that it sheds some light on all the unseen joys, struggles, and complexities that encompass the work of the home.
In reflecting on the death of her parents, author Caitlin Flanagan remembers the work her mother did for their family. While seemingly unremarkable in comparison to her father’s work as a writer (whose work was archived upon his death), her work left its mark on many:
A team of archivists was not flying from Massachusetts to find out why she was so often the first person called when there was a disaster (when a friend’s son killed himself; when a suspicious lump proved malignant), and also the first to be notified—often by several different friends on the same morning—when Lucky’s ran a special on baby asparagus. No one was coming to catalog her recipes or take careful note of the way she organized her spatulas and slotted spoons (all shoved into a glazed pot, not pretty, but close to hand; useful). The people in charge of dismantling the kitchen were her two daughters: my sister, who had patiently learned all the old lessons, and me, who had spent a childhood planning to be exactly like my mother, but who had somehow failed to pick up the gist of the material.
She goes on to say:
I liked being with my mother. To me, she never seemed diminished or unimportant because of those endless domestic errands. On the contrary, the work she did was wholly connected to the life we were living. The notes my father took on the flyleaf of Howards End apparently got translated into words spoken in a lecture hall I could hardly imagine; but the steak my mother spent five minutes choosing showed up on my plate that night.
For the women of an earlier generation, however, motherhood brought a clear and compelling awareness of human vulnerability, and a sense of having somehow been charged with the care of others.
For Flanagan, her mother’s influence may never be known by anyone but her sister and herself, but her work left a legacy. It left a legacy of caring for a family, caring for a community, and caring for others in hidden, yet glorious ways.
But there is also another aspect of this caregiving, domestic work that goes unnoticed, that others are now trying to bring awareness to. In an article on NPR, painter Ramiro Gomez is featured for his commitment to painting not just the beauty of the Los Angeles luxury landscapes, but also the workers who make it all possible:
Ramiro Gomez paints modernist houses in Beverly Hills, perfectly appointed kitchens and exclusive shops on Melrose Avenue. His pictures have nothing, and everything, to do with his background. Gomez’s mother is a janitor, and his father works the graveyard shift driving a truck. Workers like his Mexican immigrant parents show up in his paintings — part of the invisible landscape of luxury LA.
“Someone will always be working to keep it nice,” Gomez says. “Whether it’s a home in the Hollywood Hills or Beverly Hills or the Paramount Studios.”
Gomez and Flanagan both realize and write about how society is served by this hidden work. We marvel at a delicious meal, a beautiful landscape, a sparkling floor, or well-decorated home and sometimes forget that image bearers worked to make it all possible. We are bathed, chauffeured, fed, comforted, and cared for by fellow image bearers from infancy to death, and it’s beautiful in God’s eyes. It’s loving his world.
This is my hope for our conversation: As you serve the people in your churches, you will honor the work of the home as a vital contribution to the world God has made. God created us to work. And in the Lord, no ordinary work is ever completed in vain (1 Cor 15:58).
Editor’s note: When we talk about the intersection of faith and work, the conversation is often limited to the things we get paid to do. But what does the faith and work movement have to say about the hard task of working in the home? As pastors, how can you care for and shepherd the stay-at-home parents in your pews? Join Made to Flourish April 25 for a webinar where we explore this topic with author, speaker, and stay-at-home mom Courtney Reissig. More information is available here.Topics: Family, Image of God, Meaning in Our Work