We studied the Holocaust in our homeschool a little while back. It was hard in so many ways, (how do you explain so much evil to children?) but it was past time I came back to it myself, and definitely time my older girls started to learn about it.
One of the things I had missed (or forgotten) about the concentration camps was the sign that hung at the gate of Auschwitz: “Work makes one free.” Which, obviously, was a blatant lie in that context, but it struck me like a slap in the face, because a part of me believes that, at least under normal circumstances, it is a true statement.
I would never have listed it as a tenent of my philosophy. “Work is good,” maybe. Or “Work is healthy.” Or “Work is necessary.” But seeing “Work is freedom” in that context made me realize that even if I wouldn’t say it, I often act as if it were true.
If I can just get the house clean, then I can relax. If I fold all the laundry first, then I can play with the kids. Or I tell the kids, After you finish your chores you can play.
Clearly there is nothing wrong with being conscientious about work and chores. But what I realized was that when that work comes first, and when I let it rule my life and come ahead of my family, ahead of prayer, then it’s no longer the life-giving “tending the garden” which God asks of us, and instead makes an idol of productivity.
(I should say this seems to be extra tricky for those of whose work IS our families – when is folding laundry doing the good work of the Kingdom, and when are we making it an idol that separates us from God and the very families we’re trying to serve? I would be open to any advice on achieving a balance here!)
The point is not that work is bad (another heresy common in our culture), but that it is not the source of our freedom.
Jesus Christ is the source of our freedom.
If we are too old or too young or too broken to work, we still have our value and freedom in Christ. When we start there, with our dignity as sons and daughters of God, then our work is no longer a title which defines us, nor a representation of our worth, but a gift we are able to share with our families and our communities.
I’m not advocating for a messy house either, necessarily. I know I am more at peace when the floor isn’t hidden under a pile of Legos and stuffed animals. But I believe there is something my kids need more than a spotless house: a mom who remembers where her freedom, and theirs, comes from. That is, they need a mom who is free to toss a ball or read a book, even if it means the laundry has to wait till tomorrow.
It’s time I add becoming that mom to my (long) list of works-in-progress.