I’m chronically busy and oversubscribed. Like so many in this day and age, I have to fight the tendency to wear my busy-ness like a badge of pride, or a competition. The last week or so I’ve been particularly hard-working. I think a bit of that is a burst of energy from the renewal I got from camping. I now have the capacity to work just a little harder, so I’ve been tackling the small things and the backlogs that drain energy from the every day. Much of my weekend was given to the domestic labors and to do lists that eat at my conscience like a black stone dropped on a field of ice.
Then today was a particularly rigorous day at work. Instead of writing blog posts, I should definitely be catching up on my backlog of unread emails. I had one of those days where you end the day with more unread messages than you start it – not a good feeling. And tomorrow will be more of the same, except capped by a (likely) three hour church board meeting (session, for the Presbyterians among you) in which I will remember that as chair of personnel I should probably, you know, do something.
And Mondays are a hard-working night for me. Adam has aikido, so the kids and I are on our own. There’s dinner to be arranged, recycling to be put out, the house must be prepared for the cleaners (so much less work than doing it yourself, but not no work. I go through the homework with Grey. I also needed to tackle the bills – a chore that has become less frequent with the advent of bill pay, but hardly absent.
As I loaded the dishwasher, I was thinking about one of my undone tasks. Adam and I need to revisit our will. I also need to fill out my care choices and end of life choices. I have strong opinions on my own funeral, which if I want them heeded I should probably write down in a place where my family can find them. The short version is that I’d like to be cremated and buried at the base of a fir in Wellspring’s dreampt of funereal forest – you can only learn more by talking to Sunny during a massage. For my funeral, I’d certainly want the hymn “Abide With Me”. I was contemplating what other hymns I can’t make it through without tearing up and “Come, Labor On” came to mind. (Not sure I’d want it for my funeral, though.)
It’s “a hymn of a certain age” – that age being one of my soft spots. There’s something about those mid-1800s hymns that hits me right in the heart. When I sing them, I feel like the rearguard of a dying era. I wonder if I’m the youngest person to know all the words to these old chestnuts, and love them dearly. At my funeral, will the congregation hearken back to a lovely old hymn none of them had ever heard before, as I did at my grandmother’s? The carillon in our town sing sweetly on the hour (or rather, five minutes before the hour) between 9 am and 9 pm. That bell and I have a lot of hymns in common, and it’s a moment of worship for me in those quiet hours when it makes it to my ears. I checked to see if Google Music had a version of this hymn. They do, but it’s a big choir-and-organ version, lugubrious and hard to hear the words to. I’m not a choir-and-organ Christian. I’m a piano and if we’re lucky one or two voices of harmony Christian. Most hymns I love, I cannot hear “properly” without just singing them myself.
I absolutely, positively cannot make it through this hymn without choking up. The whole hymn is about working. “Who dares stand idle on the harvest plain, while all around us waves the golden grain” and “No arm so weak but may do service here”. So totally Protestant Work Ethic FTW. But then, ah, the last verse. As with so many hymns of this era, the last verse hints to what happens after our labors cease. Here it is in full:
Come, labor on.
No time for rest*, till glows the western sky,
Till the long shadows o’er our pathway lie,
And a glad sound comes with the setting sun,
“Well done, well done!”
I totally teared up just typing that. I’d blame it on fatigue, but it happens every single time I sing this song.
When is the last time someone said to you, “Well done!” When is the last time you believed it when they said it? What would it mean to you if it was the person who’s approval you most sought – the hardest judge of you – who said those words at the end of your labors, and you really believed it? What would it take for you, yourself, looking back at your life at the end of all things, to judge for yourself that your work was “well done”?
I have no answers here, only feelings. There is honor in our hard work. There is much to be done. “Redeem the time; it’s hours too swiftly fly. The night draws nigh.” But make sure that the work you are doing is the work that will earn you at least your own “well done” when the long shadows over your pathway lie.
*We Presbyterians get a lot of sermons about keeping the Sabbath and the value of rest, including this last Sunday’s, all of which we sincerely agree with and completely ignore.