My bride (Judy) and I have for the last 10 years attempted to live a kind of semi-monastic life. I call ourselves a “monk and a nun.” The threefold rhythm of monastic life in the Benedictine tradition gives us a focus – prayer, study and work. Manuel work was included in the rule of Benedict not merely to ensure that the monastery operated, but because it was seen as part of the essential calling of the spiritual life.. This was captured by the common monastic Latin phrase era et labora, which means “pray and work.” But today in modern culture many men experience a disconnect between their bodies and their lifestyle because of the lack of physical labor. Could our culture be causing younger men to devalue physical labor?
Work relates to Christian spirituality in three ways. First, work was created by God to be a part of creation. “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Gen. 2: 15). Secondly, with the fall of the human race into sin, work was cursed (Gen 3:17) and became toil, carried out “by the sweat of [man’s] brow (Gen. 3:19). Thirdly, the curse did not eliminate work as a God-ordained. God still commands people to work: “Six days you shall labor and do all your work” (Ex 20:9). I wonder how many of the readers of this blog experience manual work in their routine of life?
I have spend the last month cleaning up after a massive wind storm that took many trees down. I know for me, it is a good thing to do physical work. I need the exercise and there is plenty of work to do. What promoted this blog on work was a piece by David French in the National Review. He referenced a study reported in the Washington Post, showing that, “the grip strength of college men had declined significantly between 1985 and 2016…….the grip strength of the sample of college men had declined so much – from 117 pounds of force to 98 – that it now matched that of older Millennial women.” French remarked, “the average college male had no more hand strength than a 30-year-old mom.”
While it is only one study, “it was consistent with other studies showing kids are less fit today.” I think French is right when he says, “Today’s young males don’t have common touchstones for what it’s like to grow up as a man.” Part of being a man was doing manual work, learning the qualities of protector, builder and fixer. Raising a boy to be a man used to be a “natural” act. But today raising a boy needs to be more an “intentional” act, defying political correctness, whereby dads train their sons to not just be courageous but also physically fit.
I know for myself, I feel “the toil” of labor here on the lake. But I accept it as part of being a man. Men, how do you relate to manual labor? Do you think men are becoming weaker? How are you modeling common labor to your son? How does manual labor fit into your spiritual rhythm of life?
Here are a few suggestions. First, stay in shape physically. If you don’t work physically, get fit in some other way. Secondly, use labor or exercise to clear you mind and renew your soul. Thirdly, build the rhythm of physical activity into your weekly routine. Fourthly, model the blessing of physical labor to your children, especially your son. Fifthly, thank God if you have the strength and ability to do work.