‘Work’ by Ford Madox Brown
Cold Case is a mid-2000s procedural drama about a homicide unit in the Philadelphia Police Department—great pandemic viewing for those who like this genre. As the detectives investigate unsolved murders, they’re forced to confront violence, brutality, hatred, greed, and injustice. Some days, they are overwhelmed. At the height of a challenging case, their Lieutenant, John Stillman, says to one of them, “Just do your job. Let the rest work itself out.”
Though our pandemic challenges are quite unlike those faced by homicide detectives, the restrictions on our lives and the uncertainty about the future are deeply unsettling. The simplest acts—grocery shopping, even opening a door—now seem complex. A mid-March grocery trip brought me to that realization when I noticed that I had contaminated the sanitary left pocket of my jacket by placing my unsanitary keys in it! With frustrations like these foremost in our minds, it’s easy to slide further into discouragement, anger, and even judgment. It’s easy to judge the response to this crisis and find fault with the decision-makers. It’s easy to get caught up in the frustrations of our new daily lives and take out those frustrations on others.
I knew I didn’t want that, so I was ready to take the Lieutenant’s timely words to heart. What is my job? I thought. I felt unsure about the answer. I waited. I felt anxious. Eventually, though, I realized that I was asking the right question of the wrong person. It’s God who knows best what He needs me to accomplish. “What is my job?” I ask God, the omnipotent, the lover of my soul, the great artist of this amazing tapestry. His answer has been remarkably clear and uncomplicated. He asks me to do the work I’ve been tasked to do, so I plan my lessons, interact with students, cooperate with colleagues (Ecclesiastes 9:10). He asks me to encourage those in my sphere of influence (Hebrews 10:24), so I listen, text, cook, play games, and send care packages. And my most important job hasn’t changed at all. He tells me to guard my heart (Proverbs 4:23), so I keep following my reading plan, I worship, and I pray.
I don’t need to know the outcome of this pandemic in order to do my job. In fact, it’s almost fun to wait expectantly on God, to follow his leading through this new adventure, and it is an adventure! The more of life I see, the more I have come to revel in the “gracious uncertainty” (Oswald Chambers) that God invites his children to enjoy.
Early in the pandemic days, a friend of mine, formerly the headmaster of a classical Christian school, posted this excerpt from a letter written by Martin Luther:
I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely, as stated above. See, this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.
It’s incredibly comforting to know that 500 years ago, Luther had to ask the same kinds of questions that we’re now asking. It’s clear Luther understood his job. There’s not a hint of fear, no tone of discouragement, and no judgment of others in his words. As Luther did his job, joyfully, graciously uncertain, with confidence in his Father, he learned then what we have the chance to learn right now—that we need only do our jobs because God will take care of the rest.