How double shifts at Hersheypark taught me to be joyful

One of the things my dad taught me is the value of hard work and good work. We didn’t exactly have a very strict upbringing, but Dad put high expectations on us, for better or worse. Being lazy was not an option, and to spend time with family was good, but it was best to spend time working and in labor. I learned how to “work hard,” which really meant “work a lot,” in my immediate context.

I was a ride foreman at Hersheypark. One summer I worked twelve double shifts in a row. That was my record. For twelve days every hour Hersheypark was open, I was there. It was kind of an intense ride, but I had fun. And I think that was the heart of it for me, fun.

I decided, unconsciously perhaps, that if I wasn’t having fun, it wasn’t worth working. I didn’t just want to toil in the field, I wanted to enjoy it. Bosses love employees like that, of course, but I didn’t do it for my boss, I did it for me. I didn’t want to be enslaved to an obligation, I wanted to have a good time. And I don’t just mean party, when I said good time, I really mean be full of the joy of the Lord.

One of the unusual things I bring to the table is the sort of ability to change my mind or my attitude about something. I admit, I fail at this sometimes, but rather than resenting my life and my circumstances when I’m tired, I’ve learned that it’s better to fake it until I make it. That means trying to do it with a good attitude. Honestly, even just painting a smile on my face after waking up sleep-deprived is better for my attitude than fighting the sound of the children waking up and hoping they go back to sleep. Despair, depression, and anxiety can be overwhelming. In my life, psychotherapy, contemplation, a good team, and strong discipleship helped me address those things when the painted-on smile wasn’t enough.

This change in attitude regarding work and obligation kind of puts to bed the Temple of Busy and the false dichotomy of the “work-life balance” (consultants love using buzz words), rather than dichotomize my life between what I hate to do (work) and what I love to do (“life”), I’d rather form it all around a common goal of faithfully following Jesus and being the church (I know, some of you are thinking those are my buzz words).

My kid this morning, as I left for work, said, “have fun at work!” I paused her and said, “I’m going to the office, but I’ll have fun there.” Work isn’t a place I go to. It’s part of my life. We’re all involved in God’s ultimate work on earth, and in that work, labor and rest are part of it. Going on retreat is work, and it’s often where the best work gets done. There is a time for everything, but the work of God and of world redemption, involves everything. If there are two things, though, it might be “work and prayer,” as my mentor recently told me, something that the monks mastered. Although Corporate America might call what the monks did lazy and unproductive, meanwhile, it is their boss that’s the dictator. Their sense of control is just a delusion, really, where they are their own slavemasters. Other laborers have a dichotomy between work and leisure (off time) that’s decided by the war that the union and management are having.

Nevertheless, I want to move with the monks, being full of joy and life, satisfied with my work and resting in prayer with God. I don’t always pull it off in those perfect terms, but I try not to condemn myself when I fail. At my worst, the results of my work can be crippling, but when I’m resting in the bosom of Christ, the work of redemption is exciting and full of surprises. Like the other day, I honestly had a Nicodemus moment, when an artist that I befriended recently, starting asking me questions about God, Jesus, faith, cells and Sunday meetings. She was channeling the postmodern zeitgeist (and was able to name its influencers too—Nietzsche, Camus, Sartre), but was open to learning more. She might make it to a Sunday meeting or a cell soon. Lovely. A good day of work. And a joy.

Another example, Branden’s team was short a few musicians. The room was steamy. It would be super easy to just get discouraged and wade our way through the Sunday meeting like it was a swamp trying to get to the other side of the shore, so we could just go home. Ugh. I didn’t want to do that. Not only because that’s not how I want to spend my time, I believe in what God is doing through us, and I am moved to share it. So, I asked Branden if he needed an extra vocalist that Sunday. Why not help my friend and have a good time. And we did. We wailed. I lost my voice (Francesca recommended I learn how to sing through my diaphragm and was surprised no one ever taught me that). But we had a good time.

And everyone else did too, to be honest. Branden said it was noteworthy to just have a high energy meeting. Others said, in the fatigue of summer, enthusiasm is critical. I loved it, personally. It was joyous. And that felt good.

And it didn’t happen on its own. It was not just a matter of the right circumstances, like finding the right job or project or living in the right neighborhood, or finally being free of debt. It was a conscious choice to not dichotomize my world between watching Game of Thrones after meeting and getting through it, but rather to embrace what God has put before me, reject negativity, and to have fun.

Faced with limits, a society that doesn’t honor our work readily or even listen to our input, it can be easy to be angry and resentful. Those attitudes are just toxic for me. They add more shackles to a world already filled with them. I’m free in Christ and free not to be constrained.

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