On Work and Play

“Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do. Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.”  -Mark Twain

This truth seems to be one of the fundamental mechanisms of human existence, and it has been the bane of mine. I am a procrastinator by long standing habit, and for most of my life I have sought to put off or avoid completely just about anything that I am required to do. However, if I enjoy something and feel under no moral obligation to do it, I will assemble some extremely elaborate and possibly useful projects without even noticing how much “effort” it requires.

Argh. I hate it.

I know by experience that many of the things I have to do I also happen to enjoy. Fixing up the farm? I love fixing things. Writing papers for school? I love writing, and I actually enjoy putting together arguments and learning new things. Writing a novel? Oh, good grief, this is all I want to do!

But for all of these things, I feel under some moral obligation to actually do them, and so they are detestable. It’s insanity.

The most fascinating book in the world is a joy to read until I am required to read it, or until I am intentionally reading it because it is “useful”.

I’m tired of missing out on stuff because of this objection. It is slavery to idiocy.

I believe that:

-Work is primarily what we do for others.

-Play is primarily what we do for ourselves.

Perhaps that is the fundamental reason for the hatred of work. Work, almost always, feels like it is taking from us, and only maybe giving back as much as it takes, because time is irreplaceable.

One of the tricks I have heard for getting around this is to find work that you would do even if you weren’t paid to do it. To find something that is essentially play that you get paid for.

Not everybody can do this.

I have instances of this myself, like writing a novel (which I’m not paid for, but hope to be paid for someday). However, it still has places in it where I have to slog through in order to get a good finished work, and, since I want a good finished work and since it is good to put together a complete work of art… I am obligated to slog through.

And the obligation once again kills the fun.

This is a core mechanism, and it carries over into the spiritual as a fundamental principle of Christianity: Those who keep the Law successfully do it by faith, not as work. That is, they do it because they believe it is good, for them, not because they believe they have to.

But in Christ, the obligation has been removed. The debt is no longer there. Essentially, the bills are paid. So why do work?

Why then do good (good being something that requires spending materials from out of the realm of the self for the benefit of those who are not the self)? If I owe nothing anymore, if all my debts are paid, why would I undergo the suffering inherent in expending my own resources.

There is a flaw in my character revealed by asking that question, or a lie that I am believing.

But the answer is love. Placing the needs of the other ahead of the needs of the self, simply because.

Play is done for the self, to benefit the self, and is fun.

Work is done for the self, to benefit others, and is pain.

Love is done for others, to benefit others, and is joy.

Love is the third option, the escape from the catch-22 of work vs play.

But it requires putting the whining, clutching, me-first self to death, and putting something else, something greater than the self, in its place.

This is the message of Christ, which takes the self off the altar at the center of the heart, and puts the God of love in its place, who then commands “go out and die for others as I died for you”. The whiny, selfish self would complain, but that is half the message of the Cross: that whiny thing was nailed to some wood on Calvary, and then abandoned in a tomb.

And that is how God transmutes the dull lead of work into the joyous gold of service.

Once people know it’s treasure in their arms, the burden isn’t nearly as heavy.


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