I've started a small but helpful spiritual discipline over the last weeks that goes something like this: when I go out of the house to the pharmacy, the grocery store, Dumpling House (for the absolutely necessary weekly soup dumpling take-out) or wherever, I try a new exercise of prayer. As I drive I pray for the masked drivers in the other lanes. I pray for the people pushing shopping carts across the socially distanced parking lot. And, I pray for the cashiers and workers as I zip through the aisles.
What I noticed in my prayer this week was an idea: work is essential for a hopeful soul. What I saw at Home Depot this week were innumerable people, previously sequestered at home, strolling the outdoor aisles of vegetable seedlings and flowering annuals. Their carts were loaded up with new hoses, sprinklers, grass seed and all the other normal implements of spring. But this time there was an intangible something about hitherto banal spring project shopping.
It was the same inside in the paint aisle and in the lumber section. Little projects of home and garden pushing people out into the world. And as I prayed, I didn't sense burden or obligation. I sensed hopefulness. One doesn't undertake even the simplest of home repairs or projects when one feels hopeless. The very act of repairing something, building something, or even having a gallon of paint mixed carries a certain hopefulness with it; a possible future written in the act. Yes, the work will solve a practical problem, but it will also mean a perfect tomato on a sultry August afternoon, a new baby in that repainted room that's now the nursery, or a cool living room thanks to that new window AC unit that your wife asked you to buy four years ago. Work, in so many forms, is an act of hopefulness especially in this moment of COVID-19.