While I am crutching around dangling a broken ankle, I have two young boys hired to be my feet. They are ten and eleven years old. Like the majority of modern youth, neither of them has ever had to do any hard work. They have had typical chores to do, but household jobs seldom last more than 30 minutes and are not labor intensive. I never knew of a kid that got sore muscles from helping Mommy.

My own children seldom had to do hard labor when they were young. The plain people in our community know what it means to work hard. There has not been any time in my life when I could have kept up with them. Hard work is hoeing corn from sunup to sundown, picking strawberries for six hours, swinging a machete for eight hours in the heat, throwing hay all day long every day for two weeks, putting in two miles of fence (digging the holes and tamping the posts), logging any time of the year, and whatever else is needed to survive the elements and keep food on the table. Hard work is becoming a lost commodity.

Now, don’t start thinking that I want to go back to the days when it took 14 hours of manual labor six days a week to secure one’s survival. I like modern conveniences and use them at every reasonable opportunity. But there is something lost in our character when we do not develop the will to suffer the pain of hard work. I more readily trust an unregenerate man who is known as a hard worker than I do a polished Christian who is lazy. I cannot like a lazy man. And a hard-working kid wins my heart every time.

strong in spirit

Just yesterday, a family was visiting while my two helpers and I were picking up firewood and stacking it on pallets for transfer and storage in the woodshed. The visitor volunteered himself and his son to help. The little guy must have been only about five years old. The boy struggled along for about fifteen minutes, picking up the smaller pieces at his father’s direction. Dad offered his son several “wise admonitions” about the benefits of learning to work and doing one’s part. Finally, the little day-laborer turned around and said, “Then why aren’t you working?” I smiled on the outside and had a belly laugh hurrah on the inside. “Go, tiger; you tell ’em.”

The admonition, or should I say rebuke, had its effect. Dad started helping. More is caught than taught. All by themselves, spoken words are empty. Actions are living words, the manifestation of our true beliefs. Words alone make us hypocrites; actions make us irrefutable examples. It takes character to work hard, and then that hard work pays dividends by developing more and stronger character.

But what about a lazy kid? Every kid is lazy unless he is taught to work. And no one is taught to work with words or admonitions any more than someone can develop muscles in a classroom learning about muscles. I see a lazy kid as an opportunity—a challenge. I do not fault a child who avoids work. It is my inclination as well. All work is pain. Who wants to suffer? But work is a necessary duty for us adults. Children are not yet responsible for the roof over their heads or the food on the table. But if we wait until age pushes them into the place of responsibility, they will be unequipped to provide for themselves and their future families. They will vote for the Democratic Party so they can live off the labor of those who are diligent hard workers.

As I worked these two boys yesterday, it brought back to mind the way I related to my kids as they were growing up and learning to work. Never try to teach your kids to work in a high demand situation. When I am responsible for a job that has narrow time constraints or that requires exactness, I tend to be short and bossy with my helpers. When my wife is lending a hand on a job that has me keyed up and anxious, I am aware that she ceases to be my sweetheart and becomes my minimum-wage employee. I tend to bark commands: “No, not that one. Here, grab that.” “Quickly!” “Not so fast.” I am amazed at how dumb uninformed women are about things that all men should know.

I am ashamed to say that there were times when my boys were growing up that I was impatient with them, as well, but I do believe it was the exception. They didn’t grow up hating me—quite the contrary; there was a mutual respect that has continued to grow with time. It is foremost in my mind that kids need to learn to work in a patient and forgiving environment. Don’t misunderstand; it remains a man’s world. The boys love being driven. It holds their interest. Today when I work with them, I bark, in a congenial but mocked air, sounding like an army sergeant. “Move it, boys your feet are going to grow roots. We’ve got to earn our dinner. Grab the other end. Don’t move like Grandma. Did you leave your brain in your oatmeal bowl this morning?” It gets them moving without feeling diminished. Rather than feeling insulted, they like being treated like “one of the guys.”

Let me say it again. Don’t try to introduce your kids to hard work in a high demand situation where you are edgy or hurried. It is imperative that they succeed in their early attempts at work. The idea is to leave them with a good feeling about work. They should always carry away a grown up feeling, a sense of having done their duty despite the hardships, of having prevailed in the face of great obstacles, of having taken on a man-sized job and completed it to everyone’s satisfaction. And it’s not a bad idea to make a big deal about how dirty you and they are after your hard work. Clean up together and chatter with them about the job you’ve all just worked on.

If their first experiences at work leave them feeling inadequate, they will hate it and resist all future offers to work with you. Who wants to return to an environment that is emotionally painful? If your high-demand situation puts the bar higher than they can jump, they will stop jumping. They’ll feel much better sitting on the sidelines.

Working with these two boys yesterday, I was reminded of a young man’s need of fulfillment in his work. One of the boys who had cleaned out a drainage ditch a few days earlier came back after a rain, anxious to see how it was functioning. He was proud of his work. He also wanted his father to come and see the shop he had cleaned up.

My perspective with them was that what we did and the way we went about it had more to do with developing their souls than it did with getting the job done right. Wow! That’s a big one for us guys. The bottom line in my thinking was that at the end of our work day, these two young guys must feel better about themselves. They must have developed thinking skills and working skills and become a little more hardened and tolerant of the pain of work. Daddies, what value is there in working hard to keep your house and yard from getting run down, if in the process you run down your kids? When the years have passed, your home will become devalued. Our only permanent investment is in the souls of our children. Let’s not sacrifice our children on the altar of our perfectionism.

What is life really all about? Yards and homes and possessions are just a physical vanity, all destined to decay. Our children are our masterpieces—our life’s spiritual work. They are the only works we will leave behind by which others will know who we were.