I had a great time picking blueberries one Saturday morning at a U-pick farm south of town that opens for a few weeks in June. It was opening day. My wife wasn’t feeling well, so I went by myself. It wasn’t too crowded, and in one hour I picked 3.2 pounds of lovely blueberries for $8.00, so it was well worth the time and effort.
My plan was to mindlessly gather berries into my bucket, but it was far more valuable than that. During the time I had to myself, I reflected on the many blessings of being a co-worker with God, as I worked in his presence to harvest what others had cultivated from what he had created.
Picking blueberries has become an annual tradition over the past four or five years. A few years ago, we actually had all of our kids here for the weekend (it might have been Father’s Day or the 4th of July), so we took them to pick with us. It was so much fun. Our grandson is a little over a year old; I am eagerly looking forward to picking with him in the next year or two.
As vivid images of him running around “helping” us came to my mind, I began to dream about how I would patiently teach my grandson some techniques to efficiently pick. Perhaps I would add some spiritual and grandfatherly wisdom about work in general that I have learned.
I would teach him to be gentle and precise. You can’t just grab a handful of berries. You have to be focused, using discernment and diligence to carefully pick only the ripe, waxy, silver-blue or purple ones and leave the green and red ones alone for next time. You have to be self-controlled, forgiving, and full of grace toward yourself when you make a mistake or fail by picking a green one, dropping a good one, or missing the bucket. Sometimes you can recover from your mistakes by finding the ones you drop, but I would tell him to leave them on the ground for the bugs and the birds.
“Later on in life,” I would say, “when you have a job, you will make many mistakes when you work. They will come far sooner than expected and will occur far too often. You just have to learn from them and let them go, being gracious to others who make mistakes and fail as well.”
Being on a farm is also a great opportunity to teach him the principles found in Genesis 1:26-28 in the Garden of Eden. This is called the creation or cultural mandate, where God blesses Adam and Eve, who were made in his image, and tells them to be fruitful and multiply, and to rule over, care for, and expand his kingdom. This teaches us that work is good. It is a blessing and a gift; we get the privilege of being co-workers with God.
Work was designed to be challenging. Some berries will be out of reach. Some bushes will be barren. It is certainly harder than it needs to be because of Adam’s sin in Genesis 3. We will experience frustration and get weary as we work in this world. In response, we need to continue to trust God to give us the strength to work hard for his glory and to remember that there will be a day when there will be no more curse (Rev. 22:3).
Another thing I would probably discuss with my little guy is the value and joy of manual labor, or “Immanuel Labor,” as I call it. This original phrase I developed reminds me that God’s presence is indeed with us in our work. Working with our hands—whether picking blueberries, tearing up a tile floor, building something, cleaning a bathroom, or helping someone move furniture—is important work. Work of this nature gives us opportunities to work as a team; we do our work better as individuals with others working beside us.
I also observed that I occasionally had to step back, take a little break, and evaluate the quality of my work. Were there any unripe berries, leaves, sticks, or bugs in my bucket? Did I miss any spots on the bush I was working on? This is true of any job we have. At my current job, after responding to an email or making a PowerPoint slide, I have to edit what I have written before I send it in order to avoid embarrassment or miscommunication down the road. When we build or fix something, change a diaper, or paint a wall, we have to take a quick look to see if we have missed a spot or if there are any parts leftover. The quality of our work speaks volumes about our character and will either point people towards or away from our Lord Jesus Christ. As Dorothy Sayers says in her classic article “Why Work?” regarding a Christian carpenter, “He should make good tables.”
Finally, as I was picking fruit, I could not help but think about what Jesus and Paul said in John 15 and Galatians 5. Jesus taught that he was the vine (divine), that we were the branches, and that his father was the gardener. All we had to do was to remain in him. Paul elaborates on this in Galatians 5, where he teaches that the result of that abiding in Christ will yield fruit of many varieties: love, joy, peace, patience, etc. We must abide not only on Sunday mornings, but must integrate our faith for 40-60 hours a week at our place of work. There, as we exhibit the fruit of the Spirit, we naturally point people to the master gardener.
These are some things I would share with my grandson as a co-worker with him, while we become co-workers with God. What a joy it is to be able to work!