Years ago, I was asked to give a Sunday School lesson on the importance of work with this simple prompt, “Labour wide as the earth, has its summit in heaven.” ~ Thomas Carlyle
Upon reading this quote, my first thought was, “this sounds like a lesson my Grannie Oberg should give—she loves to work!” My second thought was, “how am I supposed to tie physical work into a spiritual lesson?”
I am no stranger to hard work. I am, after all, an offspring of Clyde and June Oberg who moved to Alaska in the summer of 1950, built their own home, ran a dairy farm, raised six children, had their own catering business, took in dozens of foster children, and traveled the world to serve church missions. They lived life as if it was only worth living when they were busy and working.
They instilled this ethic of hard work into their children, who then passed it down to us grandkids. My aunt has always had a sign up in her kitchen that reads “No Worky, No Eaty,” and I remember summer sleepovers at her house meant early mornings to get chores done. My mother taught my sister and I how to bake bread at a young age and then helped us to start our own business selling homemade bread to finance school clothes and college. Yes, hard work is something deeply embedded in my genetic code, but I had never considered it to be a topic of discussion during Sunday School. After all, it’s just work.
While pondering how I could bring God into tasks such as scrubbing toilet bowls or changing the car oil, my gaze landed on a framed poem that sat on my bedroom dresser. The poem, written by my Grannie Oberg about her own mother, was propped next to a jar of buttons.
Grandma Duncan was a saver,
of this there is no doubt.
Everything was plumb wore through
before she’d throw it out.
I recall a woven basket,
Setting beside her rocking chair,
And every sock that had a hole
Was sure to wind up there.
Many evenings she would spend,
After working hard all day
Patching socks, or pants, or shirts,
There was never time to play.
She always used to wear a dress,
And when the front wore through,
The back became an apron--
or a shirt for me--good as new!!
In winter the boys wore wool,
the outside work was cold.
Shirts and pants turned into mittens
After they were old.
Bed comforters were sewn from scraps,
Then filled with carded wool,
Backed by flannel, tied with yarn,
Our nights were warm when it was cool.
No matter how ragged or worn the piece,
If there was a button--any size,
Color, shape, two holes or four,
Mom saved it like some precious prize!
She didn’t leave a lot in worldly goods
Just sacks and boxes of buttons remain
From worn-out shirts, and coats, and dresses,
Some are pretty, most, very plain.
Grandma’s buttons in a jar,
A simple legacy left for us.
I hope you’ll cherish this symbol
Of a life well-lived with little pomp or fuss.
I have read this poem so many times, and it has always touched me, but after reading it this time I realized that Grannie didn’t love, admire, and appreciate her mother because she worked hard, but because her hard work emulated the charity—or pure love of Christ—that her mother had for her family. Great Grandma Duncan approached her work from the angle of love. This love left an imprint on Grannie’s heart and inspired her to live a life of work: work done cheerfully, exemplifying the love she has for others.
My jar of buttons reminds me of love in work. When faced with the task of mothering a cranky child or nursing a combative patient with dementia, I can either approach it with an attitude of drudgery and annoyance or with the love the Savior would put into that same work.
When Jesus Christ offered to wash the feet of his disciples, he did not serve out of obligation or inwardly complain about the nature of the task. His service showed his love. His disciples then shared that love with others through their own acts of service.
That evening I realized the wisdom of Thomas Carlyle’s words. The work we do, if we do it with the right purpose and attitude, will always bring us and others closer to God. We may not receive spiritual enlightenment while going about our mundane or difficult tasks. But as we serve others with love, they may recognize the Savior’s loving hand in their lives as well. Thus, the summit of all our labor—whether great or seemingly menial—can indeed be found in heaven.
Holly Christensen is a third-generation Alaskan, living on the same land that her grandparents settled. She enjoys life with her three young children and picks up extra shifts as a nurse. She is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and co-founder of the internationally recognized non-profit The Magic Yarn Project, which she continues to direct from her home.