“All work is honorable.” 
– Bill MacKillop

During my college years, I prepared
to go to work at the midnight hour while my roommates prepared for bed by climbing
under their warm blankets and turning off the light. Sunday through Thursday
evenings, I packed up supplies for my graveyard shift job and left the house at
11:45 p.m with 8 hours worth of food and books for studying. I drove the empty
roads of Tallahassee with darkness serving as my only companion, except for the
occasional glow of a television set coming from passing homes, or street lights
illuminating my way. At work, I answered phones all night long at an answering
service for doctor’s offices, plumbers, and AAA. 
Without this income, a higher education
would have been out of reach for me. I accepted the position because it allowed
me to be a full-time employee while attending college full-time by offering the
opportunity to study on the job. Phones don’t ring constantly in the wee hours
of the night. 
a former graveyard shift worker, I’ve always loved Edward Hopper’s painting,
“Nighthawks,” even before American Family Insurance brought it to life in a
commercial. The lonely darkness outside that diner resonates with me, as do the
individuals inside, reminding me of my own isolated nights on empty streets,
passing empty businesses where the employees had locked up and gone to a
comfortable home for the night. Alone with my dreams of an easier day. Dreams
propelled my younger self forward when sleep eluded me and classes required my
presence at 9 a.m.
I’m injecting dreams into the subjects of the painting, but I wonder if the man
with his back to us is looking at want ads for a job. Maybe the counter help wanted
to open his own restaurant, but couldn’t afford the investment. The couple on
the far side of the diner has no place they need to be and lounge around,
drinking coffee in the midnight hours. The darkened building across the street
from the diner hints of ghosts who only came out during the daylight bustling
business hours.
maybe dreams aren’t the subject at all. Maybe the counter help loves serving
folks, making small talk, feeling a connection with customers. Maybe the guy
with his back to us just got off work at a hospital and needs some downtime
before going home. But I tend to attribute dreams to people, because so often I
hear those dreams and longings expressed in conversations. 
A few months ago, our pastor did a
sermon series on work, telling of the many people who arrive in his office for
counseling around their unsatisfying work situation. Sometimes people feel a
call to a very different life than the one they’re living, and they’re
confused. They’re desperate for change, longing for the opportunity to do this other thing, follow that other passion. He counsels
people to look at their jobs as “the economic engine” that allows them to
pursue an art, a passion, schooling, whatever.
For others, the economic engine provides
the opportunity to buy airline tickets to visit loved ones, live without
financial stress, contribute to worthy causes with generosity, etc. For me,
working full-time from midnight to eight in the morning, forty hours a week
during college, provided the economic engine to earn a degree.
But let’s talk about dreams. Not all
hard work guarantees our dreams come true. How many folks really land in the
perfect fitting job for a lifetime? I graduated from college, and eventually
found a job as a television engineer, but I wouldn’t count that as my dream job. All those graveyard shifts
and middle of the night studying failed to produce the path I created in my
mind. But was the work on my part just a waste? I think not. An education is
never wasted. Eventually, I stayed home and raised my sons. Now, that was my dream job. But the sons grew
up and moved away, and I needed to find different work. And the cycle
Work arrived in the very beginning,
according to the book of Genesis. There was a lush garden and the inhabitants
were told to work the garden – for their benefit. Then that nasty little
incident happened with the apple, resulting in banishment from the garden to go
and work and cultivate the fields forever more outside paradise.
But to the unemployed, would
banishment to work the fields sound all that bad?
Yes, if working the fields meant you
now had thistles and weeds to battle, and poor yields, invading storms, etc.
Haven’t we all experienced those weeds and thistles in the form of unresponsive
management, poor quality products, boring work tasks, shortage of needed funds,
hard work that never seems to bare the kind of fruit you imagined when you
accepted the job?
My husband and I often find
ourselves talking with people about their lack of work, unsatisfying work,
make-do work, and tenuous work—those jobs someone would never choose for
themselves, but that are needed to pay bills for a season. All those pesky
weeds and thistles. Many of us will likely have a season where we must make
ends meet in ways that are less than fulfilling.  So we share the quote above, that all work is
honorable (as long as it’s legal!), especially when someone feels demeaned by
their circumstances. It’s honorable to work at an answering service, in a
restaurant, or a warehouse, or office. It’s honorable to work in a home and
care for a family, forgoing a paycheck. It’s honorable to show up and do
something—sometimes anything—that is deemed productive and helpful in some
Everyone should be honored for being
What does it say about our work
values if people feel demeaned in certain positions? Recently, I’ve met a limo
driver who was a veterinarian in Poland and a lab tech worker in a hospital who
was a cardiologist in Lithuania. Talk about being overqualified for your jobs.
But I did not detect bitterness because sometimes the work isn’t the only dream
people hold.
Not only is all work honorable, but
work is necessary. We need the workers and positions out there to keep a
country and a world moving, to keep folks fed, and healed, and taught. But we often
morph work into something else: our identity, our place in the sun, our
satisfaction. Bertrand Russell once said, “One of the symptoms of an
approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly
But work is important, with the right perspective and a sense of balance. Ask
anyone who hasn’t been able to find work. Ask about their empty days, the hours
that feel endless, the repetitiveness of getting up and watching the hands on
the clock go by while cars pass your house filled with drivers, coffee mug in
hand, traveling to their jobs.
know those feelings because my husband has experienced the punch-in-the-gut
experience of unemployment, the phone call announcing your company has been
sold, gone under, decided to downsize, that takes your breath away momentarily
as your son’s college tuition bill passes through your mind. But Bill learned
to stay busy during those brief seasons. He learned to find meaning, to find
“work” that didn’t necessarily provide a paycheck but gave him a purpose at the
start of the day after the coffee pot had been drained. He worked on friends’
houses or on our house, mentored young men, job hunted, and met in a huddle
with neighbors from the high-tech field who found themselves in the same
uncertain season. He just stayed busy.
Leo Tolstoy had it right when he said,
“A quiet secluded life in the country, with the possibility of being useful to
people to whom it is easy to do good, and who are not accustomed to have it
done to them; then work which one hopes may be of some use; then rest, nature,
books, music, love for one’s neighbor — such is my idea of happiness.”
             If you are one of those folks who find your
job meets with your passion and giftedness, you are blessed indeed. For the
rest of us, there can be a paycheck, there can be joy – or not. But some task that
includes “work which one hopes may be of some use,” now there’s a goal we can
all attain.


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