It’s hard to believe it’s already Labor Day weekend – it seems like summer has flown by. For me this hottest season of the year in Texas has been a whirlwind of duty and change. And as many of us fire up the grill for a last leisurely outdoor picnic, shop for school supplies, or go on a final summer weekend vacation, it’s somehow fitting to pause for a moment and reflect on who we honor and what we commemorate on Labor Day.
Officially, Labor Day celebrates the economic and social contribution of workers, those who labor - day in and day out - to make our country productive and strong. Really, that’s all of us, isn’t it? Whether we’re employed in the traditional workforce, or self-employed, or under-employed, or work full time making a home, raising children, or being present to the needs of others, work is work. We all work at something most of the time, even our pursuit of leisure. And for all our efforts, Labor Day is a day of rest, whatever it is we do.
The ideal of labor is driven by our pursuit of our practically limitless imagination and creativity:
- Those who labor to give birth actively work to deliver a life into the world with all the possibilities and wonder of a brand new tiny person, “When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world” (John 16:21 NRSV).
- Those who work in manufacturing labor as part of a larger creative process – adding one piece or one task to an assembly line with a finished product at its end.
- Those who work in the service industry offer themselves for the greater good of each individual life they touch – nurses, doctors, wait staff, clerks, cashiers – wherever people intersect and engage, if only for a moment.
- Those who build new buildings and improve our roads do the hard physical labor of construction to create the municipal infrastructure that serves us so well each day.
- Those who protect and serve work for the safety and stability of our society at large – they labor on behalf of law and principle and universal values of justice.
One of the inescapable hallmarks of grief is that it’s work – hard work. Sometimes it feels like a 24/7 occupation that’s so all-consuming we can’t lay it down, even for a minute. We struggle with grief, we work through it, we labor to fix what’s broken within ourselves. But really the hardest thing some of us never do is put it aside from time to time to rest from our grief – to take a break and lighten the load for an hour, an evening, a day.
When we rest from our grief, it doesn’t mean we’re suddenly “over it” or that by not thinking about our loved one for a while we’re somehow betraying our shared past. No, that’s not the nature of grief – it’s very tenacious. Grief will always show up and meet us again where we are. Usually, though, it doesn’t feel as urgent or insistent as before. The difference is that when we rest from grief, we renew our mind, our body, and our spirit. We find our smile, we laugh, we breathe.
And when the moment comes to re-engage with our grief, we sense that we’re somehow changed by the restorative power of rest, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29 NKJV). I like the language of The Message, “Are you tired? Worn out?...Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me - watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matthew 11:28-30).
Grief is our finest, most enduring labor of love – we remember, we honor, we build our life anew for the future. And through the labor of our grief we learn the unforced rhythms of grace - the grace of God, the grace of divine healing, the grace of rest for our soul.
And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done.
Genesis 2:2 NRSV
Keep me this day, O God, in your rest for my soul. Amen.