ERROL CASTENS: We are happiest doing as designed

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

Roger and I had been out in the crisp morning air since good daylight, butchering two does that we’d permanently retired from the turnip-thieving business.
“I don’t ever want to enjoy this part of the process,” I said as we nipped and tucked on the carcasses, “but I wouldn’t mind if it were a little less distasteful.”
“Cutting firewood isn’t my favorite thing, either, but the labors of one winter pay off in the fires of the next one,” Roger challenged.
About the time we headed up the hill to his kitchen with four venison halves on our collective shoulders, we’d begun comparing how we each enjoy some tasks and not others.
I love starting seeds, picking vegetables and actually writing but detest weeding, mechanical tasks and certain kinds of interviews. Most steps in supplying firewood are only pleasurable in memory.
Roger said he loved splitting firewood but not sawing it and enjoyed every step in his hot sauce business except bookkeeping.
That led us to the mindset that unpleasant work – to some people, ALL work – is something to avoided, even at the cost of not making one’s own way.
It wasn’t just the figures we’d seen of how many Americans depend on some poverty program or another. It was the chronic depression and dysfunction we’d both seen in families where ambitions center on winning the lottery, where the kids learn that work is abhorrent and success all a matter of luck.
As we peeled off our jackets and gloves and scrubbed our hands almost surgically clean, I told Roger that it took me a long time to find work I enjoyed.
“It’s discouraging not to have any known talents, to experience work only as drudgery and to wonder if it will always be so,” I said.
Roger nodded as he started a pot of coffee. He picked up a book, “Every Good Endeavor” by Tim Keller, and read a passage.
“According to the Bible, we don’t merely need the money from work to survive; we need the work itself to survive and live fully human lives,” the book said.
“Work is also one of the ways we discover who we are, because it is through work that we come to understand distinct abilities and gifts, a major component in our identities,” it continued. “So author Dorothy Sayers could write, ‘What is the Christian understanding of work? … that work is not, primarily, a thing one does to live, but the thing one lives to do. It is, or it should be, the full expression of the worker’s faculties … the medium in which he offers himself to God.’”
Roger closed the book and poured two steaming mugs.
“Just imagine if every church, food ministry and human services agency helped needy people figure out what their vocation – their calling – really is,” he said. “Just knowing what they were wired to accomplish would take a lot of people out of poverty and into joy.”
Errol Castens is the Daily Journal’s Oxford Bureau reporter. Contact him at

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