Yesterday was a busy day. I took advantage of the fact my college age son didn’t have to work, and my high school aged son was also available, and we tackled the cleaning of the basement. It was an invigorating experience. Mike is a ‘no-nonsense-get-the-job-done’ kind of guy, and he started moving boxes and digging in like I was paying him $20 an hour, which I wasn’t. (I figured providing three meals a day for as long as he is home should do the trick and apparently it did.)

Although I had asked the younger girls for help they dragged their feet until they saw their big brother working. I would like to think that they were motivated by his enthusiasm and good attitude, but that was not the case. They were afraid he’d throw away one of their toys. They scrambled like ants to a piece of cake on the ground as soon as they saw him approach a box of their stuff, and they started pitching in too. When he earnestly asked, “Can I throw this away?” referring to a pink, semi-sparkly tattered piece of cloth which, in better days must have been a piece of dress-up clothing, I gave him the thumbs- up. Seeing this, the girls scrambled to find and retrieve anything that might belong to them before he got it.

After awhile, the girls got in the groove too, as did my high school son. The latter was put in charge of the boot, coat, hats and scarves closet, while the former tackled the toy room and game closet. I gave instructions to dump and sort and make a pile of things that didn’t fit anywhere. We found old wallets and a couple sticks of lip gloss , and more batteries than I could count, broken toys, mittens without a match and some loose change. We filled five large garbage bags of junk, and filled the recycling container to the brim.  Then we put everything else back on the shelves.

Ahhhhh…. It’s a glorious experience to observe your offspring work together to improve the surroundings of your home! It’s better than lemonade on the porch swing or a enjoying few candy kisses from the secret stash in the kitchen. This family teamwork is supposed to happen here every Saturday, but more often than not someone is missing, at practice or rehearsal or in another activity in this business we call life. But yesterday, the children all came together with me to work for a common goal, and the synergy was amazing.

If the family that prays together stays together, then the family that works together gets things accomplished, and learns good lessons about cooperation, endurance and life. The fact is, work is good for children, despite the fact they tell you otherwise, or even may develop ailments –“I have a headache” (funny, no headache when we were talking about sledding outside earlier today)  or “My leg hurts” (interesting that it didn’t hurt five minutes before the work was to begin). When Mom asks for help suddenly a hangnail is of utmost urgency, and the need to find a band aid is critical. Working through this emergency and continuing to labor also develops fortitude—physically for the children and mentally for the mother.

The bible tells us pointedly, “The sluggard is alike a stone in the mud; everyone hisses at his disgrace. The sluggard is like a lump of dung; whoever touches him wipes his hands.”  (Sirach 22:1-2) Those are pretty strong words, but it’s absolutely clear direction that work is not to be avoided by anyone.  (If you have a family whiteboard you might try posting that before Saturday morning chores. Who wants to be a sluggard or compared to dung?)

Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Laborem Exercens (On Human Work) writes, “Work is a fundamental dimension of human existence on earth”.  In other words, we’re all stuck with it. Pointing that out to a stubborn nine year old might help him finish the chore you’ve assigned. Even adults like Mommy and Daddy aren’t off the hook from work.

In the abovementioned encyclical, Pope John Paul II addresses the dignity of human work and the value of industriousness, as well as suggests a spirituality of work. Every family ought to check out this encyclical because we all deal with work daily.  (For the complete encyclical check your Catholic bookstore or visit the Vatican website at )

It’s edifying to read that  the family is better off spiritually when members cooperate and work together. Eternal life is the ultimate goal. But, of course, a clean bathroom ….or basement…. is kind of nice too.

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