This last weekend men of our church assembled together to build a new storage shed next to our main building. The components for the shed had been purchased some time ago, but time for erecting the shed could not be secured until now. The crew started early and worked through the day pausing only briefly for lunch. It was, at times, entertaining inasmuch as men have varying approaches to construction and place different value levels on written instructions. Nevertheless, the project marched on with the parts coming together to progressively resemble the building it is supposed to become.
Since the work that occurred on Saturday and Sunday afternoon I've had moments to reflect on why it was that I took such great pleasure in the work-day. This is no exaggeration. I truly took pleasure in the work I participated in with the other men of the church. I now believe the reason I derived such fulfillment from the occasion has something to do with the virtue of physical labor as a spiritual discipline. In his book The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives, Dallas Willard describes some "non-standard" spiritual disciplines that help the believer become conditioned to the divine just like standard disciplines such as fasting, study or silence. He suggests that physical labor is a spiritual discipline that also can assist the people of faith "work out" their soul to develop spiritual fitness for encountering God's work through them.
In this regard, the physical labor of erecting a storage shed can serve as a spiritual discipline for being conditioned better for divine influence. In can also fit the category of Willard's "engaging" disciplines of service and fellowship. After all, fellowship occurs in those environments when you can know someone better than routine habits allow. I've often said if you really want to know a man, find out what annoys him, see how he reacts after hitting his thumb with a hammer or when wall joints don't line up. Also, you know a man by watching what makes him happy. Observe what jokes he tells or laughs at. Does he laugh at himself? Is he patient with others not as skilled as he is?
It is the nature of men to reveal a great deal about their personality and character when performing physical work. For this reason, laborious activities have a virtuous component to them in how they unearth a man's soul. Anything from digging ditches, to carpentry to piling rocks to assembling storage sheds contain the virtuous exercise of bringing out the hidden makeup of a man. As a result, physical labor can produce more meaningful fellowship than other forms of attempting it. It is a shame that in our present culture, when the collective instinct is so much stronger to be served rather than to serve, that many other forms for facilitating "fellowship" are pursued among men (such as BBQ, football, entertainment, etc.) to the seeming exclusion of work. There is nothing wrong with those things, but physical labor often seems at the bottom of the list. How tragic this is, when it produces such fulfilling moments of brotherhood. I look forward to the next opportunity I have to work and labor next to my Christian brothers, get to know them in a manner that only hammer, the drill and the screwdriver can produce.