No Sweat

[Guest contribution]. We were sitting under a tree, sheltered from the hot Zimbabwean sun. Eight beautiful African women and I were having a conversation about life in Canada. The sadza and vegetables simmered on the fire as we waited for 125 hungry orphans to make their way to the Hands at Work feeding point. Most of these women worked very long days in physical and emotionally challenging labour. Living in poverty themselves, they still cared for others with generosity. In response to their inquiry about what work I did in Calgary, I mimed sitting in front of a computer, typing all day long with an occasional phone call interrupting the action. “You do that all day?” they asked me incredulously. I assured them that I did. There was some laughter, then silence, then the haunting question, “No sweating?” I’ll never forget the look of confusion on their faces when they posed that question to me, these women who survived by the sweat of their brow. It was one of those moments that could easily have slipped away without being recognized as significant. But something about it and the ensuing silence shouted ‘this is important’!

I’ve lived for many years from the neck up. Most of what I do is brain work. I don’t grow my own food, don’t wash my own car, and I don’t scrub my own floors. All these I’ve considered unimportant in the face of the ‘more important’ neck-up work I’ve had to do.

I’ve been back in Canada for several months now but I can’t shake the question. Does God meet us in unique ways through physical work? Is there a unique way that physical labour contributes to our well-being? Do mind and spirit find opportunity for inspiration and discernment through activities that get our heart racing and our muscles flexing?

While I muse on these questions I have been consciously choosing to do things that make me sweat, paying attention to what the movement of my body brings to the quality of my life. For the most part I have relegated my spiritual life almost entirely to what I think, but now I am learning a kind of spiritual alertness in using the other 95% of my body. I am revelling in the joy of physical, not mental, tiredness. I am coming to see again that there is something sacred about physical work.

If truth be known, I’m clumsy at most of what I do, but I’m trying to pursue it nevertheless. I don’t know where this burst of inspiration will lead, but I am sure that I am on to something important.

For those of you who, like me, work in front of a computer, let's do something with our hands. Is there any sweat in your life?

Judy McVean, guest contributor

Editor’s note: Judy recently spent time serving our mission partner Hands at Work in Zimbabwe.. You are invited to check out our annual mission report which you can access here.