I was struck hard by some lines I’ve heard hundreds of times:
Although they go forth weeping,
carrying the seed to be sown,
They shall come back rejoicing,
carrying their sheaves.
It’s meant to be a comforting, encouraging, rousing verse, stirring us to hope because the children of Jerusalem “are remembered by God.” Today I found it comforting because I recalled what a universal experience it is, to “go forth weeping, carrying the seed to be sown.”
Oh, how well we know about this. How well everyone who has ever worked has felt that sense of working and weeping, trudging in to the fields with your seeds and your tools, and also the burden of the sorrows of work itself.
There are so many sorrows that go along with work. That’s just how it is, so much of the time. There’s the sorrow of working when you’d much rather rest. The sorrow of working and knowing nobody appreciates it. The sorrow of working and feeling completely inadequate to the job.
There’s the sorrow of working and knowing you’re unlikely to be there to see the job completed. The sorrow of working and wondering if anything will come of your efforts, or if you’re just burying seeds in the dark, and that’s the last anyone will ever see of them. The sorrow of working and knowing someone else is likely to get the credit. The sorrow of working and knowing you need help, and knowing you’re unlikely to get it.
There’s the sorrow of working and wondering if you’re doing it right, or possibly doing the opposite of what you’re supposed to be doing. The sorrow of wondering if everything you do is going to be undone as soon as you let your guard down.
I was struck, as I say, by the verse in part just because it is so familiar to me. I’ve heard it so many times, in so many contexts, it suddenly hit home that its very familiarity means that it’s a universal experience. It’s not a sign that I’m defective or lazy or on the wrong track. This is just what work is like.
If work were always enjoyable and fulfilling, and we were always confident and and capable and always got immediately rewarded for our efforts, it wouldn’t be work at all; it would be recreation. But work — I mean the things we would never choose to do, but must do because of who we are — carries with it its burden of sorrow, confusion, uncertainty, guilt, resentment, fear, weariness, and grief. That’s just what work is like, much of the time. This is true for everybody.
And there’s more.
It’s also true for everybody that work brings with it rejoicing, eventually, most especially work that is done in Jesus’ name. And by that I mean any kind of work that you do because you must, and then when you pat the cold soil back into place over the dry little seed, you tell God, “This is now yours.”
I believe that kind of work will bring a harvest even when I can barely muster up the memory of how it feels to rejoice. I believe that “they shall come rejoicing, bringing in their sheaves” is a universal experience of joy, just as work is a universal experience of sorrow. And I believe that joy plays out in as many ways as work plays out in sorrow. I do remember. It has happened to me, and I believe it will happen again.
I believe because God is literally promising this to us. He couldn’t be more clear. As many kinds of sorrow as there are, there will be ten times more kinds of rejoicing, because that is what work is like, too: It’s the kind of thing that yields a harvest. Sorrow — the sorrow of work, and maybe all kinds of sorrow — yields a harvest. Sweat and tears water the ground for the harvest, because the earth is not always a grave. We know this. Things that are buried do not always stay that way.
God has promised this. Jesus has modeled this. He has told us so, over and over and over again. This is how we unite ourselves with him: Be willing to work. Be there for the burying, and there will be rejoicing.
But to get a harvest, you must work. To get a harvest, you must wait.
A version of this essay was originally published at The Catholic Weekly on February 13, 2022.