I grew up in an era when life was defined by three areas: work, worship and play. My dad worked, my grandfather worked, my uncle worked and even as children, my brothers and I were required to work. By “work” I mean pulling the bugs off the potato plants, planting corn, helping out in the family garden or mowing the lawn. As we got older, we took on more responsibilities.
Recently, our family was watching some old-time movies of my wife as she was growing up. One of the scenes showed her at 8 years of age, a golden-haired princess. This little beauty was busily pushing a lawnmower (no, it wasn’t self-propelled) across a very large yard. In those days, everyone worked.
Everyone also worshiped. During my growing-up years, I hardly knew anyone who didn’t go to church. Our society reflected the fact that Sunday was a holy day. Stores were closed, and no one went to work. Sunday was a day of rest. (Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-A, reflects this value in his stores. They are closed on Sundays to give families a day of needed rest.)
Back then, life was predictable. We worked during the week, went to church on Sunday and returned home to rest. As a young boy, it was hard to understand why I had to rest on Sunday. I knew God created the heavens and the Earth in six days, so I understood why He rested on the seventh. After all, making trees, oceans and a couple of human beings must have been hard work. If God wanted to rest, I thought He deserved it. But why did the rest have to include . . . me? I realize now that I had a front-row seat as our national way of life began to change. America went from listening to radio to watching television, from agricultural to industrial, from family-centered to occupation-centered, from Sunday being a day of worship to Sunday becoming another ordinary day.
When I was growing up, everyone played, too. I have fond memories of my brothers and me playing baseball, tag, hide ‘n seek and a host of other games. I also remember the family vacation we took every year. When our family worked, we worked; when we worshiped, we worshiped; and when we played, we played.
No longer is our society like this. Somehow, we have things all mixed up. Instead of work, worship and play, we now worship our work, play at our worship and work at our play. Those who worship their work are considered workaholics. They sacrifice their families to climb the corporate ladder. Although I served in ministry and not the corporate world, I must confess: that lifestyle was . . . mine. I found all sorts of excuses as to why I needed to be away from my family. I made my work matter too much and my family . . . not enough.
When we play at our worship, other problems arise. Instead of serving faithfully in the body where God calls us, we spend our time looking for the next “fun” place to go. The fun always runs out, and we start the process over as we seek out a church that is bigger, better and offers more activities. And of course the pleasure industry has risen to new highs (and lows) as people now work at their play.
I spent the past week on vacation with my wife, my two sons and their wives. We haven’t taken a vacation like this since our sons were teenagers. One of the things I learned this week is how much I miss the time spent just playing with those closest to my heart. We have gone snorkeling together, finding conch shells and pulling the mollusks out so we can bring the shells home. We have explored ancient Mayan ruins. Today, we went to an interactive zoo where we held crocodiles, snakes and birds. Although I have enjoyed our time together immensely, our vacation has made me a little sad, too. I realize how many precious moments I missed because for so long I put work before family. I am also sad because our vacation is almost over, and we are just beginning to reach new levels . . . together.
I think I have discovered what families need today. Maybe it’s time to return to work being work, worship being worship and our play being exactly that: our play. I also understand why God rested. It wasn’t for Himself after all. He knew what I have finally begun to learn: family . . . matters.