Working for Free

Working for Free July 10, 2014


My bicycle tire was in tatters, shredded by a jagged rock hidden in an open field. I pushed my bike home and that night showed it to my fix-it-father. He removed the tire from the rim, turning it over and over in his hands, and finally, with a grunt, declared it unfixable.

“So, can I have a new one?” I pled, my green eyes caked with the dirt of a long day outside.

He handed it back to me and said, “After you have enough money.”

My shoulders sagged, the realization that my summer fun had suddenly hit a major roadblock. No money, no wheels. Eventually I earned the $3 by pulling dandelions from Mr. Edgeman’s yard and clearing out trash from the Conroy’s fenceline. Little did I know that this was the start of a lifetime of chasing dollars so I could be mobile.

From that day on, money and work seemed to go hand-in-hand. Some of it was because of the blue-collar nature of my family, never expecting help from another’s hand as long as you had two of your own.

Some of it came from my church life. I can’t find it, but somewhere I must have had the Protestant Work Ethic Red-Letter Believers Study Bible, with verses like “If a man shall not work, then neither shall he eat,” and “the man who doesn’t provide for his own…is worse than an unbeliever” emblazoned on the cover.

Money should come from labor – it’s almost a universal law and a moral imperative. But is money always the object? What about giving away my talent? What about the joy of working for nothing?

Giving my Labor Away

In the past few years, I’ve discovered the sweet separation of money from work and the joy of giving my labor away without the pressing need for compensation. As I have matured, the line between work and money has blurred.

I’ve learned the pleasure of volunteering, taking those same gifts that help me earn a living and in turn, give them away – for nothing. I’ve raised my hand to edit newsletters, balanced the books for community groups, and organized files for a Boy Scout troop. I’ve written speeches for a friend suddenly thrust onto a stage, organized teams to communicate lofty goals, and penned obituaries for family members.

I work with many writers through The High Calling community and local writer’s groups. Instead of fame, or notoriety, or compensation, I encourage them to write for the passion of the craft. By forgoing the pursuit of money, it frees them up to follow their heart.

Now this sounds beautiful and wonderful, but if you are depending on your skills to put food on the table, it can be particularly insulting when you are asked to something for free. I had an awkward moment when I had to turn down “the opportunity” to edit a 50,000 word book from a friend who offered, “I can’t pay you, but I’ll buy you dinner.”

After all, that same work-ethic Bible says, “A worker deserves his dues.”

It’s a delicate dance isn’t it? This mosaic of work, money, and the Christian imperative to give both of them away.

How about you?

Do you have a story about working for free? What’s your attitude on compensation? Are you overworked, underpaid? Over at the

Money (Photo credit: Tax Credits)

High Calling, we are soliciting posts on Working for Free, and we’ll highlight a few of them next week.

All the details are here.

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