Monday, January 19, 2015

The Spiritual Value of Work

On a cold Winter day in Wiesbaden, Germany, two missionaries knocked on the door of a dear sister. The frozen world around them lie in perfect stillness for several long seconds and it seemed as though the cold had frozen time itself. Finally, they heard the rattling sound of the door being unlocked and a slow creak as the aging woman opened it wide. Joyful greetings ensued and the sister welcomed them into her home.

The missionaries and a member of the local congregation took their normal places on the far couch and the woman brought in the same fruit tea and cookies that had become customary for their visits. She'd been meeting with the missionaries for several weeks now, often multiple times each week, and felt the spirit of God as they visited.

She had similar feelings when she had attended church with them and as she read assigned passages from the Book of Mormon, so there was no need to hesitate during today's visit when the missionaries asked if she knew the Book of Mormon was true. "Yes," she told them. She knew it was. She knew her prayers had been answered. She knew Joseph Smith was a prophet and that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was the true and living church of God on the earth. She knew it; and she told them so.

"If you know these things are true," one of the young missionaries asked, "Will you follow the example of Jesus Christ and be baptized for the remission of your sins, as a covenant that you will follow the Savior, and for membership in Christ's church?"

It was quiet for a moment as the woman pondered her response. The second missionary reassured her and testified of the blessings she would receive from living the commandments of God that she had had been taught over the last several weeks. Though warm inside the small apartment, time again seemed to freeze for several moments. Finally came the reply.

"No," the woman said, "I cannot. It is too hard."

The missionaries did their best to respond, to encourage, to support, and to inspire. The woman agreed with all they said, but returned again, firmer this time, "It's too hard." More visits, more church meetings and more fellowship were ultimately pushed aside by an unwillingness to overcome, to grow, and ultimately, to work.

Willingness to work had been in abundance decades earlier when economic disaster left one in four workers in the United States and Europe unemployed. It wasn't just the economy that went through a Great Depression in these days. With the lack of work came abandoned families, plummeting birthrates and suicide rates that spiked by more than 50 percent in 1929 and remained high for over a decade.

Conditions declined rapidly around the country. Farmers that couldn't afford to harvest their crops saw them rotting on the vine. Governments scrambled to find resources to combat starvation. Homelessness grew increasingly common as cardboard-box "Hoovervilles" sprang up across the nation's cities. Desperate women contributed to a rise in prostitution and desperate men led to increased theft and alcoholism.

American morale was perhaps the lowest it has ever been when Franklin Roosevelt became the nation's president on March 4, 1933. Less than three full weeks into his term, Roosevelt announced the creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) to be "used in simple work". The CCC would plant nearly 3 billion trees and build more than 800 parks across the nation, but more important than the material gains of that work, according to Roosevelt, was "the moral and spiritual value of such work". Though the depression would continue for seven more years and be followed by four long years at war, Americans at work saw lower suicide rates, lower crime rates, and higher fertility rates. Americans at work beat back depression with the glowing fire of hope.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught that, "Work is always a spiritual necessity even if, for some, work is not an economic necessity." Elder D. Todd Christofferson expounded:

By work we sustain and enrich life. It enables us to survive the disappointments and tragedies of the moral experience. Hard-earned achievement brings a sense of self-worth. Work builds and refines character, creates beauty, and is the instrument of our service to one another and to God. A consecrated life is filled with work, sometimes repetitive, sometimes menial, sometimes unappreciated but always work that improves, orders, sustains, lifts, ministers, aspires.

Work is a gift from our Heavenly Father. He describes His plan for the happiness and salvation of His children as "my work and my glory-- to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man" (Moses 1:39, emphasis added). All that he does so lovingly and redemptively is, nevertheless, work; and he takes joy in the accomplishment of his work.

Likewise, God has given unto us that we should act for ourselves (2 Nephi 2:16). When Adam was cast out of the Garden of Eden, the ground was cursed for his sake, and ours as well, that by work we may know the joy of achievement and that our character may become more like that of our Father in Heaven (Moses 4:23).

Our work and our glory will be as average or as extraordinary as we make it. Many of the things we want but do not have in life remain outside our grasp because we have not yet done the work to receive them. Like a great athlete, most of the points, rebounds, assists, tackles, goals and home runs of our lives will be the result of long hours of painstaking practice and hard work. The bulk of that practice will always be on our own, away from the coach. Victory comes through personal diligence and commitment. The view of a champion, and the victory that surrounds him  or her, must never be overshadowed by the long process of becoming one. There is a time of preparation and a time of victory. The second mile of hard work is what makes the difference between the exhilaration of achievement and the acceptance of mediocrity (Elder F. David Stanley, April 1993).

Of necessity then, we must realize that there are different kinds of work and that all work is not equally valuable. Each of us has a different mix of professional work, school work, church work, family work, work on service projects and other kinds of work for our individual circumstance and season in life. Each form can stretch our talents, but Elder Maxwell cautions that blessing of work includes the challenge of orchestrating and appropriate balance of our work so that some forms, like professional work that may keep us late at the office, do not dominate the others. "Whatever the mix of work," he counsels, "the hardest work you and I will ever do is to put off our selfishness. It is heavy lifting!"

Work is honorable. It is good therapy for most problems. It is the antidote for worry. It is the equalizer for deficiency of native endowment. Work makes it possible for the average to approach genius. What we may lack in aptitude, we can make up for in performance (Elder J. Richard Clark, April 1982). Each of us is capable of extraordinary things if we are willing to work "with all [our] heart, might, mind and strength" (D&C 4:2).