The FIRST Labor Day and How it Changed Our Lives
We celebrate Labor Day as a tribute to the worker’s spirit, the labor force that represents the engine of our country. Labor Day was first celebrated locally in 1882 (in New York) led by the Central Labor Union and Matthew Maguire. (You can read the entire history of Labor Day here). From there it grew into a national holiday celebrating American workers and labor unions. As the number of those employed through labor unions decreased the day became and has become as much of a celebration of the end of summer as recognition of American workers. Despite the recorded history of Labor Day, the significance of working as being a part of our duty and daily lives goes back much further than 1882.
God Created Labor Day
Genesis records the first “labor day” observance.
“The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:15-17 ESV)
God gave the garden to Adam to “work it and keep it”. So, work was observed by God to be good and to be the responsibility of Man. As the story goes, God saw that it wasn’t good for man to be alone and created a “helper” for him. In Genesis 3 we read where together they succumb to the temptation of Satan and as they say, “the rest is history”. After they have done what God told them not to do, they try to hide from God. After a “hide and seek” game (where, of course, they could never really hide from God), Adam and Eve are punished (as is Satan) for their deceit and disobedience. What’s interesting regarding the discussion of work is how God decides to punish Adam (and subsequently all men who follow). And to Adam he said,
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:17-19 ESV)
Thus work became “laborious” to man. The first “labor day” was conceived.
Work = LABOR
What does this have to do with us celebrating Labor Day? It’s a reminder to us that we were made to work. Before man’s sin and fall from God’s immediate presence, God gave him the garden to “work and keep”. Work has been a part of our DNA from the beginning. But, because of the fall, it was now going to be “W O R K”…Labor.
As we look at the landscape of today’s society and hear the statistics regarding unemployment, underemployment and those who are under government assistance, we understand and feel the weight of a country that isn’t “at work”. As men, we tend to fall into one of two extremes when it comes to work. We either place much more significance on it than we should (aka “Workaholism”) and everything and everyone around us suffers. Or, we are unwilling to work at jobs that are “beneath” us and prefer to take the handouts that are provided by the government. Now, I understand that short term help is crucial and I believe this is where the church must step in to help out men and their families. But, outside of disabilities or other physical or mental issues that would keep a man from working, it is our God-given duty (and our deep inner desire) to find work to do to provide for ourselves and our families. “If a man does not work, he shall not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10) is a scripture verse that shares the importance of a man’s work. I am also not saying that women can’t work or that they can’t be the breadwinners of the home. What I am saying is that regardless of individual circumstances, we (men) were made to work. I am not attempting to define or qualify that word but the Bible indicates that work (in this sense) is related to putting food on the table and providing.
Work and Today’s Youth-Teaching our children the value of work
There are too many young men who haven’t learned the importance of work. There are too many who are wasting their lives playing video games, hiding behind social media platforms and unwilling to put their “hands to the plow” and work. This passivity shouldn’t surprise us nor is it a new phenomenon. The curse God gave to Adam was directly attibutable to his sin of passivity and standing by while Eve “fought” the devils temptation. And, it’s that same passivity that leads to this type of behavior. We must be about raising a generation of “workers” and helping them see the value in assuming the role of provider for their families. We are wired that way as men. And, dad, we need to expect it out of our children. One of the most critical things we do as a father to young men is to “put them to work”. From doing chores around the home, to having them do odd jobs around the house for money to helping them find their first job, we help them experience their God-given role of being a “worker”. It’s noble to work and it’s part of who we are.
I know that times are tough and there are likely a number of you out of work, not because you want to be but because of circumstances outside your control. If you are a father, this is such a great time to help your children learn about the role of work in our lives. Show them by example how to prayerfully go about seeking work. Talk to them about the steps they need to take and that there is never a guarantee that they will find the perfect job, especially right out of college. Too many of our young men and women have the distorted idea that just because they went to college they are “entitled” to a job in their field. It didn’t work that way for us and it won’t for them. College is a great way to get launched to a career but it is NOT a guarantee. Hard work, perseverance and God’s hand are what really works. Knowledge is important, but no more so than “sweat and tears”. As you go through the challenges of finding work, be an example of those three to your kids…prayer and dependence on God, work hard to find work and persevere by not letting the “no’s” stand in the way of finding the “yes”. Be creative. Tap your networks. Don’t be afraid of asking for help. And, in all of this, help your children. Share with them some of the process you are going through without heaping the weight of unemployment on them.
These are tough times but I really believe that when we turn our efforts toward seeking God’s help and putting one foot in front of the other, we can experience the joy of work, no matter what we actually do. And, we really can celebrate “labor day” as something that reminds us of the value and nobility of work. As someone once said, “it’s a tough job but someone has to do it.” And, dad, you are the one to do it for your family.