On FIL's and the (made up) Sin of Overwork


Homesteaders- 1890 (from MN Historical Society).

A few days ago I was driving east from our farm home to my work in St. Paul. I had the first 100 miles under my belt when my cell phone rang. It was a family emergency. My car was still heading east as I asked for more details- "which hospital are they taking dad too?" I found out Mike's dad was in an ambulance on the way to Sioux Falls, SD- which is the third hospital away from his home (150 miles) and a level up in providing trauma care.

I pulled over. Pointed my car north. Stopped. Cried. Pointed my car west. And went back home to take care of my husband and kids.

Pretty simple equation right? Family emergency - work= Taking care of the right thing at the right time.

And it was absolutely the right decision. But it was not without some internal struggle. I am always reluctant to take the "non-work" option, even when it is without a doubt the right option to take.

I wasn't raised Catholic, but know of the seven deadly sins through our cultural lexicon. Surely, I thought, overwork would be one of those 7 sins. I thought I would find some strictures about not putting work above all else on the list, which I now know reads: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride. Unfortunately, I also learned that the Roman Catholic virtue that 'remediates' (my word- not theirs) the sin of sloth is "diligence" or the Latin equivalent "Industria." That actually sounds a lot like the virtue is work and the other side of the equation, well..., is a deadly sin. Oh good Lord.

My father-in-law (FIL), David, is a second generation American--his grandpa and grandma hailing from Denmark and Norway. Part of my heritage is as a 3rd generation American. When I called my birthmom to ask just now (we're friends), she said that my great-grandma was two of the four children that survived the crossing from Norway to America. One was buried at sea- the other buried on land they think.

I'm guessing it was the most "industrious" and probably desperate immigrants who got on those boats heading west to America. Hard work- hard scrabble- good years- bad years- make hay while the sun shines- droughts- dust bowl- dreams- and a farm. That has to imprint on one's being and through the generations. This is no work born out of ambition or ego- this is the desperate work needed to put your children to bed under a blanket and with food in their stomachs. This is the work needed to see those you love survive.

My FIL was a dairy farmer no less, until a few years ago. As hard working breed of farmers as there's ever been. Especially the way that David and Jean did it- on their own. A family farm. Just a couple days before the heart attack that landed David in the hospital he was helping a family friend, a widow, get her house painted before the winter. Industria is a virtue; but not entirely.

It's my opinion that there is a lot of modern Western drama and even fake dilemmas about our overworked and strained lives. It is born of a luxury and privilege to even consider. And yet, it is an age old issue that humans have grappled with throughout the millennia. How do I know? Well, I look to an ancient book of wisdom that tells humans that they need to rest on the 7th day. Even the land is given over to rest in fallow the 7th year. I am a person of faith and intellect, who some days is weary, heavy laden. And within weariness I try to remember that we are sentient and spiritual creatures who are meant to be, and who are, so much more than our life's work.

Those hard working ancestors and immigrants who proceeded all of us to this time and place worked hard to survive and their work secured a more comfortable present for many, though not all, of those who may read this. I made the right decision to turn back west and to abandon my place of employment in order to return to my farm and family. My family will remember and benefit from my attention for generations to come.

David is doing fine today and is back home recouperating. And I think now we'll see him slow down, just a bit, to get some needed rest.


If you have time, you might enjoy Moberg's "Emigrants" series. http://www.amazon.com/Emigrants-The-Emigrant-Novels-Book/dp/0873513193

I am also the product of scandanavian diaspora, and the series paints a fairly vivid picture that I hadn't really considered.

I was raised Methodist, so we never heard of those seven sins. But perhaps to distinguish our little congregation from the Presbyterans, we did learn that the hope of salvation through works was error. Grace was unearned, as are our families, the result of love given freely, rather than an accumulation of good deeds. Heading home is always the right direction.

I appreciate this so much, as a woman/mom/partner with similar challenges of balance and demand. When we are passionate, and committed and driven by what we do, it makes sense that it is all consuming, and it is also a privelidge to be able to choose to do it. I want my kids to see me loving what I do, and knowing why I do it, and I also still feel guilty every time I miss something....In any case, we are born to work for survival.

Dan-- wow- those are powerful words to have in ones heart and to live by. Heading home is always the right direction.

Jenny-- some years ago I gave an interview on work-life balance and said "balance- schmalance." If you love something do it with your whole heart and being. That was before I had kids. And now I try to do multiple things with my whole heart and being... But I think Dan has it right, ultimately.

nt- I'll get those Moberg books. The Mobergs are our good neighbors...

Thanks all.

Dan said it exactly right. Grace is unearned--thank goodness.

A beautiful entry, Kathy! Thank you! And I love and agree with Dan's comment!

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This page contains a single entry by Kathryn Draeger published on October 21, 2012 6:13 PM.

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