Saturday, July 12, 2014

On work, entitlement, and keeping the house clean

Today’s Coffee: Papua New Guinea

This morning I went to the school festival of a high-schooler in our youth group. I had tea (as in tea ceremony), ate a bunch of stuff, and saw some class performances. Surprisingly enough, boys as well as girls participated in choreographed dance routines. I can’t imagine American high school boys doing that… and probably not too many girls, either, for that matter. I hear we have a number of popular boy bands to thank (?) for this phenomenon.

I returned home to find Keith hard at work with his Japanese teacher (affectionately known as Gan-chan-sensei) on his sermon for tomorrow. There was a time when Keith tried to finish sermons a week in advance to have ample time for checking. Last Sunday, Keith had to take a major Japanese language exam, so the several weeks before that he spent in frantic study mode, with no time even to think about impending sermon. The sermon is finished; he just sent it off to Takahashi-sensei for final checking. Next is practice.

With Keith being busy (and tired), it’s part of my “job” to feed him and to make sure the house is a hospitable place for him to work, and for any guests who come, such as Gan-chan-sensei. (I’ve actually toyed with the idea of writing on this subject for a while now, but I didn’t really know how to write, and anything I tried to write came out wrong. There are a lot of threads to this flow of thought and a lot of fears and mixed feelings.)

I realized, not too long ago, during another time when Keith was really busy and tired, that if I didn’t clean the house, it wasn’t going to get cleaned. I realized that I am not “entitled” to having a clean house without putting in any effort. Both of us were expecting the other to do the housework; the diffusion of responsibility had to stop. So… I resolved to quit bugging Keith to do housework—when he helps out, I can be pleasantly surprised, rather than being upset when I feel like he’s not pulling his weight. This is about my attitude towards housework, not about how much Keith does. I resolved to do the housework cheerfully… but sometimes my resolution wavers. (Part of me wants to shout, “This was a practical decision! We are an egalitarian household!”)

On the other hand, if I consider housework to be part of my “job,” since we work at home and entertain colleagues and friends there, I feel bad that there are other working people, especially women, who come home tired from “work” and have to do the housework on top of all that. And is it really “work” if I mess up the kitchen with one of my crazy (technically unnecessary) cooking projects and then have to spend the time cleaning up after myself? Or should I call it “study”?

And then the rest of my time I spend attending church meetings and events, preparing for those meetings and events, practicing my instruments, and attending lessons and tea ceremony classes. With the exception of Takahashi-sensei, the others attending the meetings are there in their precious free time; some of them have very busy schedules at work. Music and lessons are also things other people do in their free time. “Do what you love, love what you do,” right? From the outside it might look like I’m living a Gen-Y paradise, that I do nothing but indulge in my hobbies and call it work, yet it is work, I have to do it, and it makes me tired, often with nothing to show for it. (On that note, pulling weeds and cleaning the house have a certain feel-good factor to them.)

I can’t say how many times someone has told me how lucky I am to do what I love. Most, I think, are referring to my cello career, although this could just as well refer to my missionary career—I get to read the Bible with friends, after all! I have also met lots of people who wonder why I get paid to do a job that I like.

Sometimes I like playing cello, and sometimes (often for long periods of time) I feel burned out, and I wish I had picked a “normal” job. I have to practice my instruments every day, whether I want to or not. Sometimes I really don’t want to practice, but I know from experience that “cramming” for concerts is not a good idea, so I practice anyway.

Sometimes I think it would be really nice to have someone else define what my “work” is and when I will do it—and then pay me overtime when I work more than 40 hours a week. I have no idea how many hours I work, because I’m not even sure which hours I would count.

Rather than using “do what you love, love what you do” or “follow your dreams” or some other cliché from a high school graduation speech to describe my attitude towards my work, I would say that God gave me these skills and the motivation to learn and grow as a musician and a missionary, so I want to use these gifts for his glory. This conviction gives me the motivation to keep practicing when I don’t want to, to persevere through culture shock and disappointments and exhaustion, to keep loving the work that everyone thinks I’m supposed to love. (I do love it, most of the time.)

Maybe I’m trying to defend my lifestyle; after all, here I am having my leisurely weekly blog time with coffee—I do this to communicate with friends and supporters, and simply because it’s good for my spiritual life. But I’m still trying to figure this whole “work” thing out for myself. I live in a country that is obsessed with work, so I suppose it’s appropriate that I give this a lot of serious thought. Please pray with me for a balanced life of work and rest, and for me to use my time wisely, for God’s glory.

1 comment:

Joann Wilson said...

Dear Celia,
For a while now I have wanted to comment on your blog post about work, because I have had so many of the same thoughts. I want to respond as part of a conversation, not because I have advice for you, just to share my own experience.

My own questions about what is work are different in that I don’t get paid, but I definitely feel that I work. I work by choice, feeling that it is an important part of every person’s life to contribute to the greater good. I suppose I can contribute to the greater good in ways that aren’t really work, such as being a good friend and going out of my way to support others. But I do believe that God has called me to the work of KidREACH. It is work because it is a responsibility I have been commissioned to do and other people are relying on me. I love it, I enjoy it, but sometimes it is a burden. I am feeling that way a bit now as I prepare for fall and recruit new tutors – not my favorite part of the job.

I do feel a bit of work “guilt” as I compare myself with others who work much harder than me. This comparison is not helpful for me, and I believe Jesus has spoken strongly against comparison. When I was younger, I never felt like I was doing enough because I was comparing myself to others. I felt driven to measure up to what society expects and, honestly, what would make me look important and “busy”. It’s the “supermom” complex.

I had an epiphany of sorts about 12 years ago about that. I don’t know how many times I had heard that Jesus loves me as I am and not for what I do. But at that time this message when from my mind to my heart and I knew it was true. I realized that I would never do enough to earn God’s love – nobody can do that. It sounds so simple, really, something we hear all the time, but for me it was a profound truth that changed my life. Knowing this enabled me to stop striving to please God and instead bask in his love.

I’m still learning, as I will be for the rest of my life. It’s a journey, especially for a type A person as I am.

I am praying for you on your quest to understand the balance in life between work and rest. And I thank you for what you have taught me about Sabbath rest.