Discovering work’s unexpected rewards

Work leaves its mark. In the poem “After Apple-Picking,” Robert Frost observes: “My instep arch not only keeps the ache/It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.”

I’ve felt the aches and pressures which come from physical and mental labors. Earning bread by the sweat of the brow (whether in the marketplace or on the homefront) produces sore muscles and a weary mind. But there’s often a good portion of butter and honey on that earned bread.

Pitching pea vines at 4:00 A.M. is not fun. Or is it? In retrospect I have no bright recollection of being tired and grumbling and sore. What I seem to remember more than the feel of the pitchfork handle is joy in the handiwork of the Lord. I remember the dew in the fields, the heady scents of rich growth, the magic shifting of light and shadow that happens softly before full sunrise. I recall also a comfort in togetherness that transcends any memory of aching muscles.

My attitude toward tomato-picking has also turned about. A necessary evil—that’s what it had seemed. Dad had all those acres of tomatoes. Each beautiful fall afternoon as soon as school was over, it was to the fields. We Dibb kids were, of course, allowed time to change from school clothes into grubbies. We tried to postpone the inevitable by changing clothes as slowly as possible. (And, if truth be known, we did wish fervently each year for an early freeze.)

Now five or six closely watched tomato plants in a small family garden represent my determined connection with a special tomato legacy. I see myself as having been associated with important quality production. Dad had a talent for raising delicious and beautiful tomatoes, and I feel the need to uphold the tradition. Sweet are the uses of work. And some have unexpected eternal implications:

Work cements family relationships. Work can become a tool for helping family members get to know one another better. Teaching a child to sew a dart or operate the washing machine is an interaction that allows for more than the sharing of information. There’s often a natural and lasting strengthening of the parent-child relationship. Likewise, children working together can establish bonds of unity as they struggle in a common cause.

The Dibb children never really relished work. In fact, we kids spent a lot of time and energy in trying to get out of work. There was the time when David and Dale had been instructed to get the manure spread on one of the fields. Baseball beckoned. The boys simply let the air out of the tires of the manure spreader. My younger sisters once cleared up after dinner in a miraculously short amount of time. Later all the dirty dishes with counter clutter and leftovers were found inside the clothes washer. That had been the closest big, enclosed space that would swallow their assignment from sight until they were ready to finish the drudgery.

Episodes such as these are now part of our cherished family memories and teach us patience with our own children. As my husband and I try to orchestrate work properly into the family melody, sour notes sometimes happen. It’s heartening to recall that unsuccessful work experiences can still contribute to the effort of building family unity.

Work teaches you to enjoy more fully the non-work times. In my youth, I saw clearly that my mother and dad were willing workers. There was much to be done. They set the pace. But what a pace! Dad worked all day as a section foreman on the railroad and then plowed or irrigated far into the night. Mother cooked and canned and cleaned and mended and did other chores—and finished half of ours—and then read the Book of Mormon late at night. Phew! Rewards were not the expected rewards. Our house remained humble. We never did get any nice living room carpet to replace the conveniently cheap, on-sale linoleum we bought when we first moved into the old yellow stucco house.

Our rewards for work were the time-off times. Happiness came in having Mother and Dad as ours when we knew there was still work to be done. Our parents had the wisdom to call time out at judicious intervals. There were rides into the canyon, fishing trips, the long lazy July 24th holiday, the built-in breaks that came by virtue of dad’s participation in the Church athletic program.

Because we knew work, we truly appreciated our play. And, somehow, the great work/play contrasts even allowed us to look more kindly and more clearly upon work itself.

Work provides patterning for meeting all goals. I doubt that, as a youngster, I gave any thought to intelligent balance of work and play. I do know that I slowly realized how doing work I didn’t particularly like taught me to do better in the kind of work for which I had more personal interest or personal motivation. When you learn how to tackle one job—no matter what that job might be—the work processes involved have transfer value.

My brothers and sisters and I are not dawn-to-dusk, nose-to-the-grindstone, never-take-a-break stalwarts. But because of the parental examples we’ve seen, and because of our personal experiences, we’re able to better cope with the trials of life. Having to thin rows and rows of sugar beets before you can eat lunch makes spending extended time studying for a history test or caring for babies seem not such a big deal. There’s a strength that comes from having hoed long rows. You have faith you can do it. You know that the row will come to an end if you keep moving. You know that after a certain number of rows the field will be conquered.

I wonder if Mother and Dad had ulterior motives when they prodded the boys out to the barn on a snowy morn or when they pushed us girls to get those peaches peeled. Did they know that our participation would result in more than getting the cows milked and the food supply built up? Did they dream of a future harvest that had nothing to do with peas or tomatoes or grain or hay?

President Kimball has commented on how some of us seem to want bountiful spiritual and temporal harvests without developing the root system that will yield them. He noted: “There are far too few who are willing to pay the price, in discipline and work, to cultivate hardy roots. Such cultivation should begin in our youth. Little did I know as a boy that daily chores in the garden, feeding the cattle, carrying the water, chopping the wood, mending fences, and all the labor of a small farm was an important part of sending down roots, before being called to send out branches. I’m so grateful that my parents understood the relationship between roots and branches.” (Ensign, Nov. 1978, p. 75.)

It’s part of God’s plan that we should have the opportunity to develop root systems through good, hard effort. “In the sweat of thy face …” (Gen. 3:19) were words from the Lord portending the manner of life which Adam would lead. The Lord left it for him—and us—to discover that the sweat leads to the sweet reward.

Work makes you feel good about yourself. In the Dibb household, our self-images became largely dependent on the quality of our work. A “well-done!” from Mother or Dad for doing our chores in the best way we knew how was a genuine compliment that uplifted. But something about the work itself gave uplift. The physical and psychological benefits of work intertwine in ways not fully understood.

Some months ago our seventeen-year-old daughter was going through a period of despondency. There was no apparent reason for the malaise. Here was a bright, beautiful, talented girl with a growing testimony of the truth. My husband and I tried joking, reasoning, cajoling, and all sorts of creative psychology. Holly remained down.

Then very early one Saturday morning Holly went with her friend Lynette and their family for a vigorous day of wood-gathering in the hills. Holly came home very late with muddy clothes and heavy fatigue and a bright countenance. Good hard work had done what our careful maneuverings could not accomplish. Sometimes only a work project can bring needed order to one’s life. Such a task, with beginning, middle, end, can give satisfaction and increased self-esteem upon completion.

Work makes you grateful for abilities and opportunities. When your arms hurt from kneading bread, you become acutely aware of arms. This often leads to giving thanks for some very basic blessings. We’ve had a chance in our family to have a more grateful attitude toward work by observing our fourteen-year-old daughter. Chaleen has a congenital muscle problem and some learning disabilities. A physically or mentally handicapped person may have a limited capacity for accomplishing certain kinds of work, but very seldom is he or she lacking in positive attitude. When Chaleen literally trills in the thrill of having been able to fold a few towels, I remind myself that having the capacity for doing the wash is a blessing, not a curse.

Work aids in developing patience and faith. It’s not unusual for work to generate discouragement. We are so often told about the virtues of work that we sometimes tend to expect wonderful and immediate results. But occasionally the cookies burn. We run out of money in the middle of painting the house. It snows for ten days straight after the garden is planted. What was thought by the student to be a well-researched term paper is given a “C-.” Maybe our only recourse in certain of these disappointments is to accept that “all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.” (D&C 122:7.) Maybe it’s a chance to learn patience, to develop increased faith for the next time around.

Sometimes we don’t know until later what the real value of a particular work experience might be. When the Saints in Nauvoo were constructing the Nauvoo Temple, they likely expected that the major result of their toil would be having and enjoying a temple. Many did receive their endowments, but the temple was barely completed when the exodus began. They left a building; but they took with them increased fellowship, sharpened artisan skills, and other benefits recounted in journals. Later some Saints could look back and decide that building the Nauvoo Temple was but a dry run for building the temples in Utah. Maybe much of our work constitutes dry runs for more permanent settlings in the eternities.

Still, it is difficult to do a one-plus-one task and then not be able to enjoy the “two” result. What’s also difficult for some people is to see the hoped-for harvest of their efforts and to feel the joy—and then not have one soul offer a “well done.” Sometimes we erroneously expect applause to be part of a successful work experience. If no one gives us a “Hurrah!” we figure it wasn’t worth the effort.

A typical arena for feeling hurt at unacknowledged work is in church service. When you go the second mile—and without pay, mind you—can’t someone say thanks? Well, is that why we do what we do? To receive adulation from all around us? “Christ didn’t wait to mount the cross to sacrifice Himself until He was guaranteed that all people would appreciate and accept His gift and His message.” (Neal A. Maxwell, Wherefore, Ye Must Press Forward, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1977, p. 6.)

Work helps you to better understand and appreciate others. When a person struggles with difficult work, there’s a big possibility he will develop empathy for others who have to handle difficult tasks. Not until I had some brief experiences in certain musical assignments did I come to stand in awe of musicians. Not until my daughters helped can peaches did they really begin to appreciate the canning I had done in previous years. My husband (who teaches interior design) has more respect for and interest in farmers and their work ever since he helped an ill friend harvest the hay.

A few weeks back, after allowing much more daydreaming than I deemed necessary for one afternoon, I interrupted the reverie of our fifteen-year-old daughter to remind her that work awaited.

“And you’d better get with it soon, Marin.”

Her response was one I’ve heard from her many times. “Work!” she complained. “It’s always there!”

And so it is. “Cursed is the ground for thy sake.” (Gen. 3:17; italics added.) “No matter to what work man may give himself, provided it is honorable and he do it with his might, he may rest secure that on the last great day, the work will be transmuted into spiritual values, and as such will be written, with credit, into the eternal record.” (John A. Widtsoe, A Rational Theology, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1937, p. 179.)

The rewards of work are sweet. And the sweetness is lasting.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Scott M. Snow

Dianne Dibb Forbis, a marketing consultant and mother of three daughters, serves as the Cultural Refinement teacher in her Rexburg, Idaho, ward.