Over the past two years, Americans have sadly become quite accustomed to not working. In fact, many of us seem to prefer it over the alternative.
As my sister and I discussed this new trend of preferential unemployment, we laughed and reminisced about our grandmother. We both knew exactly what she would say about this strange time in history, the same thing she said almost every day of our lives: “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop!”
While we reminisced, we started listing other “Katie quotes” we had learned from her, many of which were just her very Southern versions of Bible verses, such as, “If you don’t work, you don’t eat,” from 2 Thessalonians 3, and “Even a fool seems wise till he opens his mouth,” from Proverbs 17.
Honestly, there’s not a day or a task that comes my way that I do not hear my grandmother’s wisdom reverberate in my heart. Her matter-of-fact words, coupled with her dry, often sarcastic humor, still thread their way into every corner of my life. If Katie Wilson said it, I can still count on it to be Bible-based truth.
Born in 1904 in Chickasaw County, Mississippi, Katie Arlene Cox Wilson lived to be 98. In all of those years, no one in our family ever remembers her simply sitting idle, except during Sunday church services.
Truth be told, by the time she made it to the church pew, she had dressed a houseful of children in handmade, hand-washed clothes and had cooked a meal sufficient enough to feed her large family and anyone else who might “drop by” after church. I am sure the short-lived peace of that country sanctuary felt mighty good to Mama Katie.
My grandmother was in her late 50s by the time my sister and I came along, and ten years older by the time our brother was born. But we thought there was no better place to be than playing underneath her quilting frame. As she hummed or chatted with us, Mama Katie was constantly moving her needle in and out of her latest patchwork creation. And of course, she taught us how to cut out, piece, and quilt our own small doll quilts.
She also taught us how to work, but we never knew we were working. No, she never made our work seem like a chore. It was an adventure, something fun that made us feel important and much more adult. It was such a natural process for her to give us an opportunity to learn something new, like cooking, cleaning, or working in the garden.
Then, she simply let us try things for ourselves and experiment until we found the best way to get the task done. But Mama Katie was honest enough to not criticize our efforts or falsely praise them either. Accordingly, we discovered the personal reward of a job well done.
The entire time, Mama Katie was secretly teaching and training.
Take yardwork, for an example. To this day, my husband and I will be working outside, and he will look at me in amazement because I know the names of many plants and weeds – and even some of their medicinal properties or their American Indian names. Or maybe he will find me pruning a bush (but only in March or November, per Katie) and laugh as I count down five notches on the branches before pruning (again, per Katie).
I find it ironic (especially considering I became a teacher) that I never realized as a child just how much I was learning. That’s because Mama Katie’s instructions were unspoken lessons. She taught by example. Unknowingly, I just learned alongside my grandmother as she quietly worked. And worked and worked and worked some more.
I never really thought about her work ethic as a child either, or the fact that my grandmother never stopped moving and working till the day’s end. Maybe that’s because she never complained or even talked about all she had to do on any given day; she just worked – constantly.
Looking back, I see that even when she sat down to visit with a friend or watch a bit of television, she always had some “lap work,” something to keep her hands busy.
Even after my sister and I became adults, the first question Mama Katie asked when we answered the phone was, “What are you driving at today?” In other words, what do you plan to work toward and accomplish today?
For both my sister and me, that sentence is one of our most vivid and constant memories of our grandmother.
But one of our most poignant memories of Mama Katie came as she lay dying. While coming in and out of consciousness, her hands never stopped moving. Even then, Mama Katie was sewing and crocheting and working those precious hands, the very same hands that had fed us, bathed us, diapered us, doctored us, and loved us for decades.
Even then, in her very last unspoken lesson, she was teaching us the importance of working till the entire job was finished. She was guiding us to the day when we will hear those cherished words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
Now, that is a Katie lesson worth learning!
Sadly, her lessons seem to be falling on deaf ears right now. My sister and I both confessed that even though Mama Katie instilled her strong work ethic within us, it is easier now more than ever to choose busyness over true work…and most of that busyness involves some type of media and technology.
Even our children are preoccupied with some form of media almost all day long, between games, videos, music, or social media posts. If that is not enough to occupy their minds or hands, there’s always the latest “fidget toys,” including large, colorful pieces of plastic with bubbles that can be popped repeatedly, over and over again.
Hey, don’t laugh, adults! All of our screens and devices are simply fidget toys for big boys and girls. Between television, computer screens, iPhones, and every imaginable type of media, we spend countless hours busily occupied, but most of what we read, watch, write, or listen to online is not edifying to us or anyone around us.
Maybe it’s time to quit posting memes about the lazy unemployed people we know or fussing about all these young people who seem to expect something (or everything) for nothing. Maybe it’s time to return to the same biblical work ethic of my grandmother – because idle hands truly are the Devil’s workshop.
But we first need to examine the difference between busyness and work. To successfully do that, we might need to turn off the screens, lay down our fidget toys, and pick up the Bible – for God has given us dozens of scriptures to teach us His work ethic.
One of those scriptures from 1 Corinthians 15:58 (KJV) wisely tells us,
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.
Along with this and other biblical teachings on a godly work ethic, let’s begin to pray for God to show each of us the specific work He has assigned us for this exact moment in time. Let’s call on Him and ask, like my Mama Katie, “What are we driving at, Lord? What do you want us to accomplish today?”
Most of all, let us remember that only those things we do for Christ will last. So, let’s get back to work, America, and let everything we do, every moment of work, be as unto the Lord.