It was a gloriously beautiful day. My son and I were enjoying the outdoors, weeding our landscaping beds together. A neighborhood kid stopped by and watched us.
“Would you like to help?” I asked.
“No—I don’t want to get my nice clothes dirty.”
He wasn’t exactly dressed in formal wear. It looked like a perfectly good weeding outfit to me. I suspected there was another reason for his refusal: He was just not that stoked about weeding.
What is your children’s attitude toward work? Do they hate getting their hands dirty? If so, you would do well to help them overcome that resistance.
God is a hard worker. “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work,” Jesus said (John 5:17). A lot of people hate work. God loves it.
Are you a worker like God is? Some people won’t do something unless they enjoy it or until they happen to feel like doing it. Many people earn a living without ever getting dirty. There is still a lot of work, however, that might not seem enjoyable but must be done. Many jobs require handling things that are grimy or smelly, getting down on your hands and knees, doing hard or unpleasant things, using your muscles, getting sweaty, putting your hands in the dirt.
Notice Proverbs 14:4: “Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by the strength of the ox.” For thousands of years of human history, oxen were the tractors of the farm. They were also sources of fertilizer, leather, meat and other necessities and luxuries in life. They were worth the equivalent of thousands of dollars because they are extremely strong and a farmer can produce a lot of crops by working with them. A man with a lot of oxen is wealthy and productive.
Oxen are also dirty. They smell; they produce urine and dung. These days, few of us deal personally with them, but in many ways we benefit from the labors of people who are willing to get dirty by working with oxen.
A stall with no oxen will be clean—but what purpose does an empty stall serve?
To have “much increase,” we have to be ready to do some dirty jobs. The best time to learn to embrace hard work, even enjoy it, is when we’re young. Get your children involved enough with dirty, sweaty work so that they learn not to shy away from it or fear it. With some instruction, a good personal example and enough work (particularly, I have found, if there is monetary compensation involved), a young person’s mindset can change from “Yuck!” to “Yes!” Or at least, “I’ll do it.”
Every kid needs chores, like taking out the garbage or raking the leaves in the yard. Every kid should learn how to clean things: dishes, windows, toilets, carpets, clothes, tiles, tools, gutters, cars. Teach your children skills like weeding, lawn mowing, edging and weed eating. Give them opportunities and instruction on how to take care of animals and, as they mature, even younger children. Every skill your child learns makes him or her more helpful to the family, the neighbors, potential employers and others they might meet and serve. Teach them to keep their eyes out for others’ needs and to fill them.
Learning to embrace honest work is a tremendous pleasure. It teaches us how to be useful. It teaches how to be patient and to persevere through difficulty to complete a task. It teaches the right kind of independence and self-sufficiency. God wants every person to learn to work—and to be satisfied in our work (Ecclesiastes 2:24). Work makes you happy. When you accomplish something, you feel good. When you waste time, you feel unfulfilled and unhappy. When you finish an involved project, and when you accumulate skill and achievement over time, you can take great satisfaction from that.
Work teaches us to embrace a challenge. A young person ought never shy away from a job because it requires him or her to get dirty. After all, God made us out of dirt, and He made us to work the ground for our food and for our livelihood (Genesis 3:19; 2:15). We need to learn how to get the job done, no matter what is required.
When our children shrink from a challenge, they fail to mature. If they never pick up a heavy weight, their muscles remain weak. If they avoid hard mental work, their minds wither. If they avoid labor, they atrophy. God uses challenges to spur growth and prepare us for greater challenges.
Teach your children that hard work brings rewards, that good fruit is a product of quality effort, and that they reap what they sow (Galatians 6:7). God’s law is “that if any would not work, neither should he eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). The sluggard may keep a “clean crib,” but he won’t have much increase.
Help your children learn to throw themselves into the dirty jobs and enjoy hard work. They’ll reap good results throughout life.