EBS33: Are You Expendable Or Expandable?

Eric Butterworth Speaks: Essays on Abundant Living #33

Delivered by Eric Butterworth on August 1, 1975

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It is important that we ask ourselves the question, “Why do I work?” Of course the most typical answer is, “Why, I work to make a living. How else would I feed and clothe my family?” But we should heed the words of Friedrich Froebel, the great German educator: “The delusive idea that men merely toil and work for the sake of preserving their bodies and procuring for themselves bread, houses, and clothes is degrading and not to be encouraged. The true origin of man’s activity and creative ability lies in his increasing impulse to embody outside himself the divine and spiritual element within him.”

Perhaps the popular resentment of one’s job was partially caused by a misunderstanding of the Genesis story. Some think that work is the penalty of the Biblical curse of the Garden of Eden, where man was told that he would have to work by the sweat of his brow. Actually this isn’t the Bible position at all.

The Bible is a book written about workers, by workers, and for workers. As Jesus spoke to people. He spoke of vinedressers and farmers; He spoke of builders and magistrates; He told of managers and laborers. And Jesus Himself, of course, spent many years as a carpenter. What Genesis really tells us is that work becomes a burden only when man has the wrong idea about it. But it also becomes a blessing when it is undertaken with right attitudes and with God as a co-partner.

When Ghandi was a young lawyer in Africa he was asked to defend a fellow countryman. He found the job somewhat distasteful for he had asked the alleged thief, “Why were you doing that?” The culprit replied, “I’ve got to make a living.” Ghandi’s unexpected response was, “Why?”

Man does not have to make a living...but he has to make a life! This is his real responsibility and purpose. Work is an opportunity to grow in life, an opportunity to release inherent potential and to fulfill our creative energies.

I love the story of three men laboring on the early stages of the Cathedral of London, designed by Christopher Wren. Each was asked what he was doing on his job. One said, “Oh, I am digging this ditch for three shillings a day.” The next said, “I am helping to lay the foundation of this building.” The third, with a glow in his eyes, proudly said, “Sir, I am helping Sir Christopher Wren build the greatest cathedral in the world.”

It is quite probable that the first man continued to dig ditches for the rest of his life. He was simply expending energy in exchange for money, making a living at the expense of his life. The second man probably progressed to become an able foreman. The third inevitably became a master builder who employed the other two. One worker is completely expendable, while the other is dynamically expandable.

There is nothing wrong with money—it is essential, desirable and pleasurable. But money is simply a medium of exchange. Unless a worker receives more from his job than pay, though his salary may run into five figures, I say that he is grossly underpaid. And this inequity can only be corrected by a change in thinking.

We hear much talk today about civil rights and the right to work. But all too often people try to reverse the law: “receive and then we will give.” The law is that we must give in order to receive and it is infallible. The greatest receiving is the blessing that is inherent in the giving itself. The most important right of the worker is to make of his work a shrine.

According to Webster, “to bless” means “to confer honor upon.” Confer honor upon your work and see it in a new light. Think of it in light of what your little bit does for the service your company is rendering to the world. Unless you take this attitude, you’ll find that the hardest part of any job is the resistance you feel toward it. If you find it difficult to drag yourself into work on Monday morning, you had better take another look at your attitude. It’s likely that you’re making yourself expendable rather than expandable. When you change your mind, work can become a joyous and fulfilling preoccupation. You’ll even look forward to going in in the morning and will regret leaving at night.

One summer evening, when Thomas Edison returned from his work, his wife said, “You have worked long enough without a rest. You must go on a vacation.” Edison replied, “But where will I go?” She advised, “Just decide where you would rather be than anywhere else on earth, and go there.” “Very well,” he sighed, “I will go there tomorrow.” The next morning, true to his word, he went to the place where he would rather have been than anywhere...he went back to his laboratory. I ask you in all honesty, could you say that about your work?

There is no person so underprivileged, untalented, unfortunate that he cannot with prayer and effort be blessed with greater unfoldment. There is no job so low that it cannot, with skill and care, be made into something important and wonderful.

A perfect example is a girl I once knew who had just finished high school, but had no money to go on to college. She decided to work a year and save some money, and got a job clerking in a grocery store. Unforseen needs arose and she wasn’t able to put aside any of her earnings... so discouragement set it. She spent so much time resenting being trapped as a clerk, with no hope of reaching college, that she gave no thought to preparing for anything else.

One day the bookkeeper left and the manager asked our friend if she would like to try the position. Replying honestly, the girl confessed that she knew so little about the store that she wasn’t qualified to do the new work. Finally she took stock of herself. “It was then I realized that I had spent more time waiting and feeling sorry for myself than I had in the all-important task of expanding my abilities and my consciousness. I was incapable of doing a bigger job than selling peas and potatoes, and most of the time I had done a poor job of that.”

She began to see how she had misused her talent. She had been working jnly tor the money. Well, she didn’t quit the job. Instead, she decided to change her attitude about the store and give a little more. She resolved to be the best clerk in the store. More than that, she resolved to get into the spirit of servrtre. She arranged the cans and the vegetables artistically, blending size and color and texture until her department was the most pleasing in the store. The boss noticed her special talent and put her in charge of all window displays. Eventually she took extra work with other merchants and developed the skill. She is now a successful display specialist with a national display organization. When she became expandable and changed her attitudes, her jobs changed and life became a happy and rewarding experience.

Let us all wake up to the God-given privileges of our daily tasks, and let us perform those tasks with the feeling that our work is indeed a shrine. We cannot always choos® the part we play in the world, but we can always choose the spirit in which we play our part. We can bring to our work interest, cheerfulness, willingness, eagerness and dedicated application. And it is only when we find the right attitudes about work that life begins to have meaning.

Resolve today to make your work attitudes change from being expendable to being expandable.


© 1975, by Eric Butterworth

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