“And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.” Colossians 3:23-24
Happy Labor Day! While we’re celebrating with backyard barbecues and basking in the last vestiges of summertime warmth, let’s look back at the holiday’s beginning:
Labor Day originated in the late 1800s during the Industrial Revolution as workers began to organize strikes and bargaining to achieve better working conditions. Imagine working at a single job for 16 hours a day, seven days a week…a common practice during those times. Many factory owners took advantage of poor immigrants who typically had no other recourse in this country for survival.
My great-grandparents came over on the cattle deck of ship from Italy in 1903 with three of their children, to perform sweltering work in the fields and garden of an Arkansas Delta plantation. As indentured servants, they were among the last legalized slaves in this country, having to work off the debt for their passage.
After their servitude was complete, my young grandfather and his sisters were child laborers, making burlap bags at Bemis Bag Company in Memphis—my aunts would sew the seams and my grandfather would turn the bags inside out, his hands bloodied by the rough fibers. They would pool their earnings with their father’s wages as a street cleaner and railyard worker, for basic needs like food and rent. My grandfather grew up to own his own grocery store, and his son (my dad) became a union officer. For all of these, work was a privilege and sacred responsibility to family.
Today, sweatshops still exist in corners of the globe, but thanks to labor laws, unions, and the trend toward good corporate citizenship in our country, many of the most egregious labor conditions have been eliminated here.
If you have a job outside or inside your home, count yourself privileged and be thankful. If you’re capable of hard work and are out there looking, you’re still privileged. Work is a blessing, a gift from God. Our forefather Adam’s first job was simply to name all the creatures. After the fall, work became more grueling, but it’s still a huge honor to do any type of work at all, especially when doing it in the name of Jesus Christ.
Celebrate Labor Day, if you can, with a day of rest. Be thankful for those who have gone before us, working tirelessly to make work conditions more agreeable. And thank God for the ability to work!
Lord, inspire us to work hard every day, knowing that our labors for You are not in vain. Grant us peace in our workplace, joy in our tasks, and contentment in our circumstances. Let us always see our jobs as privileges! In Jesus’ name, Amen.
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At top: My grandfather, Getulio, (at far left) and family—father, Latanzio; sister Rosa; mother, Caterina; and sister Nina, not long after their arrival in Arkansas. Above: Getulio as a youth in Memphis.