Work, Play, Love . . . and Learn

by Matthew Biemers and Darryl DeBoer

This article originally appeared in Comment magazine, published by Cardus: <>. It is reprinted here with permission.

Schoolwork is real work.

Stand at the doors of a high school on a Friday afternoon and you’ll observe the gamut of student emotions on display. For one group there is sweet relief that the school week has come to an end: their time once again belongs to them. Another group walks away with their heads down and their bags full of textbooks ensuring little relief and respite from the grind of education. While some delight in school and already anticipate Monday’s return, for many, the joy and purpose of their schooling remain elusive.

One reason some students appear jaded is because they are jaded. Schools do students no favors when daily learning targets emphasize finding the right answer rather than asking the right questions. Students disconnect themselves from their schoolwork because the work has often been disconnected from their imaginations; what is being taught has few implications for the next sixty minutes, let alone the next sixty years. How can we recapture students’ imaginations and help them appreciate how writing an essay, solving an equation, or shooting a basketball invites them to be co-creators with God, today and forever?

In Work, Play, Love: A Visual Guide to Calling, Career and the Mission of God, Mark Shaw attests to the importance of finding delight and joy in vocation. Shaw’s book, which contains delightful sketches that playfully illustrate the thrust of each chapter, reminds the reader that finding joy in one’s work allows a person to experience the baraka of God. Baraka, from the Hebrew word berakah, originally referred to “blessing,” yet Shaw uses the Swahili spelling—baraka—and defines the word as “all things made new.” A life void of delight or joy makes it impossible to partner with God in this baraka. Consequently, Shaw suggests that our work is no longer baraka but Babel—“anti-work,” as he puts it. Babel takes root when people believe that “God is the problem and humanity is the solution” and the work of people is to fix the mess that God has created. Babel turns humanity into an idol by centering vocation on self-reliance and self-glory. In this context, Shaw’s book has some serious implications for education; for it is in schooling that students will form the habits that lead to either baraka, co-creating with God to make all things new, or Babel, living only for the self. So his invitation to work, play, and love is an occasion to rethink how we learn.

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Matthew Beimers is principal of Surrey Christian School Elementary School in British Columbia.

Darryl DeBoer is the K–12 director of learning at Surrey Christian School in British Columbia.