One sound defeats me each evening around six o’clock. It’s not an alarm to get back to work. It’s not even something that people from the outside would necessarily find defeating. But for me (and my husband) it can bring on heavy sighs of exhaustion.
It’s the sound of toys being dumped out of toy bins.
We have three sons ages four and under (twins and a singleton). Usually after dinner we release them to play independently while we clean up from dinner. In the absence of adult supervision, one of our sons inevitably decides to dump his toys out all over the floor. There is no rhyme or reason to this. It’s simply fun for him, but it means more work for us. So, as we stare down the barrel of bedtime routines, cleaning up from dinner, and also supervising the pick-up of the newly spilled toys, we feel defeated by the tasks before us.
These moments often make it feel like our work of the home is done in vain. Toys spilled, after just cleaning them up. Spaghetti thrown all over a freshly mopped floor. Stains on pants that you just washed. Weeds that grow faster than the grass. A weekend painting project that suddenly becomes a month-long endeavor.
What hope do we have for the futility of our work in the home? It’s a question I ask myself nearly every day. Maybe you do as well.
Chasing After Wind
If you, like me, struggle with the seemingly pointless parts of the work in your day, the book of Ecclesiastes is a good place to go. It gives us language for the feelings of futility we wrestle with every day. All throughout the book, the author (some suspect it’s King Solomon, others think not) wrestles back and forth with what he knows to be true and what he experiences in the world around him.
“We experience purpose and futility in the work of the home within a matter of seconds.”
He knows that God has given us good things to enjoy. He knows that God has given us good work to do (as seen in Genesis 1–2). He knows that this life is not all there is. But in the face of brokenness, sin, and futility, he questions whether it’s all in vain. It often feels that way.
He describes the futility of life in a fallen world as chasing after the wind (Ecclesiastes 1:14, 2:11). You can’t catch it. You can’t even see it. It is an effort that yields no results and exhausts you in the process. In many ways, the book of Ecclesiastes captures our own experience regarding work. We see joy in it, and we see pain in it, often all in the same day. We experience purpose in it, and futility in it, within a matter of seconds. Ecclesiastes reminds us that we don’t yet live in paradise. We live in a broken world, where things often don’t go like we want them to.
While the feelings of futility that characterize our days might seem like they are all-consuming, they aren’t the final story in our work. Our feelings about our work have no bearing on the rock-solid truth that our work is taking us somewhere. Because work is God’s idea, it’s not going to end when Christ returns to renew our broken world. It’s simply going to be part of the renewal process. This means that our work matters now and in eternity.
Life in a fallen world means we don’t always have eyes to see this hope, but it is always there. In Isaiah 65, after chapter upon chapter of woes, judgment, and brokenness that characterize life in a rebellious and fallen world, Isaiah gives us a picture of this coming hope.
“They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity, for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord, and their descendants with them.” (Isaiah 65:21–13)
God will create new heavens and a new earth (Isaiah 65:17). This life, in all its dimensions, is going to be made new. What’s broken, what is sorrowful, and what is futile here on earth will be forgotten — and only hope, joy, and sin-free work will remain. For the Christian, the curse is not the final stamp on our work. The cross is. What Christ accomplished at Calvary is, according to Randy Alcorn, the “firstfruits of the entire cosmos.”
The new life that Jesus secured for us in his death and resurrection is a foretaste of what he will do with everything else. In the Lord Jesus, our labor is not in vain because in him our work is taking us somewhere better and will one day be restored to its original purposeful state (1 Corinthians 15:58).
Days of Futility Numbered
What my husband and I feel when the toys come crashing to the floor just before bedtime is not a commentary on the goodness of the work that we do in our home. The spilled toys might affect our moods or our understanding of the work, but they do not change the value of our work. Life in a fallen world means we experience the curse in a host of ways in our work, even in the work of the home.
“For the Christian, the curse on work is not the final stamp on our work. The cross is.”
We feel like it doesn’t matter. We are sinned against. We sin against others. We feel like God has forgotten us. But the promise of new life in new heavens and a new earth reminds us that not only will our work be redeemed in the end, but we also will be with God forever (Revelation 22:3–4). The God who walked among Adam and Eve in the garden will walk among us one day in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:2–3; 22:5).
No longer will we be plagued by futility. We will be with the one who created us and designed us for satisfying work. And we will see the point of it all in sin-free glory. A day is coming when the sound of toys crashing to the floor will not incite feelings of dread and futility. In the blink of an eye, we will be there. Until then, we work faithfully in this life, longing expectantly for the perfect one to come.