If you were to come to my house today, you would find, on the chalkboard in the kitchen, the Whitacre Word of the Week: “industrious” which means “diligent and hardworking.” It may seem like an odd word for the start of summer vacation, but it’s there for a reason. That’s because one of the lessons we are trying to teach our children is the value of hard work. As Ben Sasse puts it in his recent book, The Vanishing American Adult, we don’t just want our children to learn how to work hard, we want them to “embrace their identities as workers.”
Work is not something you do during the school year so that you can grow up to do it from 9-5 and then complain about it the rest of the time. Work is a gift and a calling from God (Gen 1:26–28). “Since God is the one who calls people to their work,” explains Leland Ryken, “the worker becomes a steward who serves God.” That’s how we want our children to think about themselves. Who are you? We are workers, we are stewards who serve God. We have been saved by God’s grace from sin and wrath to do good works (Eph 2:10).
Creating workers is a work in progress. But this summer, we have deliberately set out to do a few things toward that goal.
First, we want to teach our children that serving God starts small—in the home, in the local church, and in the community. So, we have taken our boys over to serve the widows in our church with yard work. We have asked our girls to take on various chores in the home to serve the family. We have plans to visit some of the elderly in our neighborhood.
Secondly, we are teaching each of our children to create something. This project was inspired by Sasse’s book where he points out that children these days often learn how to consume more than to produce. So the girls are learning how to sew and use a sewing machine and each will hopefully have something to show for it by the end of the summer. Our middle son is making a chicken coop—and it’s coming along nicely! And our oldest son is well on his way to completing a writing project he’s been tinkering with for a while.
We also deliberately purchased a house in a neighborhood where there’s lots of work to be done. Our yard is large and overgrown. There is lots of wood to chop, stumps to dig out, and about a million weeds to pull. Sure, our yard is great for backyard soccer games and catching fireflies, but we remind our children that it is a blessing and a responsibility. The creation mandate to “subdue the earth” applies to this little plot of earth that we are blessed to call ours.
One thing we’ve discovered is that certain children like certain kinds of work more than others. One of our boys really enjoys schoolwork, while the other loves to do manual labor—and “never the twain shall meet.” So, we challenge our son who enthusiastically serves with yard work to cheerfully learn his fractions and our son who loves to write and read, to get out there and work with his hands. I’m not sure if either of them will ever love the same kind of work, but I hope they will both learn to fight laziness in all its forms, and do all their work cheerfully as unto the Lord.
Do we sound like mean parents? It is summer after all! Isn’t this a time for kids to rest and relax? Please know that we are giving our children plenty of fun. We go to the pool and the library, play soccer, turn on the sprinkler, and make frequent stops for slushies. But we hope that our children will learn to appreciate rest and recreation even more because they have learned how to work. Our prayer is that the work they do this summer will seep into their very bones and will embed itself as part of their identity—so that whatever work God calls them to do, they will grow up to think of themselves as “stewards who serve God.”