Reprinted from 'Serve God, Save the Planet: A Christian Call to Action,' by J. Matthew Sleeth, M.D., with permission of Chelsea Green Publishing.

Many of us have built lives in which we have neither rest nor work. Our jobs do not stress our muscles and joints. Our rest is a series of events in which we give our minds over to machines such as televisions, computers, and DVD players. We use machines to chop vegetables, brush teeth, wash our dishes, and record our thoughts. But what is the cost of saving ourselves work?

All laborsaving devices use electricity or gasoline, cost money, produce heat, and make noise. Why do we love them so? What happens when we stop using a manual lawn mower? The non-motorized variety is inexpensive and quiet and uses no fossil fuels. The push mower requires us to exert energy; thus, we obtain exercise and become healthier. By its very nature, the manual mower dictates a reasonably sized lawn. What happens when we decide to save labor and purchase a gas-powered lawn mower? It spews out poisonous fumes, which we inhale. The mower is loud and damages our hearing; mowing our lawn requires little effort, and our muscles atrophy.

Reason, restraint, and the virtue of temperance disappear. Our lawns grow to a size associated with a few megalomaniac old-world monarchs. We laze, sleep, eat, and drink more. Finally, when we gain too much weight, we drive a two-ton vehicle to a health club where we can pay to work against the resistance of a machine. Why not just back up and push our own mower?

Physical work gives us health and meaning. While the disciples sailed, Jesus walked across the Sea of Galilee to meet them. He picked grain. He washed his disciples’ feet. Work was not beneath him. He thought no physical labor was undignified. The washing of feet is a sign that God is willing to stoop low and to work to save us. For millennia, men and women have used simple manual labor as a way to connect with the divine qualities of Jesus.

We have unconsciously taken work out of our lives. If we want work back, we’re going to have to consciously reinstate it. Let’s use drying clothes as an example. The standard electric dryer consumes energy at a rate of 5000 watts, meaning that it takes five kilowatt-hours of energy to do one load of laundry. If your family dries one load of laundry a day using an electric dryer, you use 150 kilowatt-hours of electricity a month. Back at the power plant, one ton of poisonous gases are created each year to run your family’s dryer.

When our family initially stopped using a clothes dryer, we did so because we no longer wanted to produce poisonous gases. Now, we live in a house with no dryer. Clothing dried in a machine lasts only half as long as line-dried garments. The "lint" you pull out of the trap consists of fibers shredded off your clothing. Now we save money, have clothes that last longer, and aren’t polluting as much. But those benefits are the minor benefits. What we discovered was the dignity of work, and the spiritual fruits of doing it in a monastic manner. What do I mean by this?

St. Anthony is cited as starting the monastic way of life in AD 270. He sold his belongings, gave the money to the poor, lived alone, read the Bible, and did manual labor. He did this in order to grow spiritually. When I hang the laundry, I make it a spiritual event. I pray, talk to God, and sing gospel songs. I pair a minor physical task that requires little thinking with a dialogue with the Creator of the universe. I may occasionally resent hanging laundry, but how can I regret time spent with God? The same goes for shoveling snow, hand-washing dishes, chopping vegetables, or biking to the post office.

All honest work can be done for the glory of God. As time passes and we grow in our understanding of God and the uniqueness of this planet, we reject more and more "laborsaving" machines. There is an old saying: If you are troubled, chop wood and carry water. This is wise advice. If you pray at the same time, so much the better. Begin to build an hour of work into your daily life. The result will be more life in your day. The flip side of work is rest. God commands all of us to take a day of rest each week, but how many of us take his advice? Imagine you’re at work on a busy day. You haven’t had a break all morning, and then your boss walks up and says, "I want you to take off the rest of the day."

"Are you sure?" you reply. "It’s pretty busy. Have you got someone to take my place?" you ask hesitantly.

"Don’t worry," the boss answers. "I’ll cover things for you."

"Are you sure?" you ask. "Because I can stay a while."

"No," the boss says, "I just want you to take the day off and relax."

"Wow, thanks," you reply.

You gather up your things and hurry out. As you exit the door, your boss calls to you. You knew this was too good to be true. "Just one more thing," he says.

You turn and reply, "What?"

"I want you to know that it’s not just today I’m talking about. I want you to take this day off every week. There’s only one condition," he adds.

Your stomach tenses. "What?" you query.

"I’ll give you this day off permanently. Just promise me you won’t work, not even around your house. Okay?"

You take a full nanosecond to think this through. "No problem! You’ve got a deal!" you shout as you head home to relax.

How many of us have a boss this generous? How many would turn down such an offer? We may not have a CEO this considerate, but our God is.

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