Last week I felt justified.

I did things for my career, I raked and mowed out both home and office for the winter, made three leftover dinners from Thanksgiving, figured out our Christmas Tree, salvaged a piece of cedar, sorted out coffee cups, and had our 40th Wedding Anniversary Dinner (comped by the restaurant!) — oh, and like now, I started the day with 90 minutes, at highest setting, on my bike: 600 calories.

But I could not go to church.

And I could not work myself any closer to justifying the gifts that all these things represent.

We are stewards of our lives, not their makers.

So no matter how much we do to preserve, enhance, and effect the possibilities from the essential beauty that has been laid before us, we earn nothing, we are owed nothing, we just try not to throw away the Grace that has been our silent Gift.

A son told me of a great day this week, the first, maybe in months, if not years of effort. He worked hard and helped many — deeply. I was happy for him, as he created it over years of effort and dedication, but I had to say that when you live for performance, despite all qualifications, you mostly fail. And if performance keys happiness, you will not be right with your life.

But good is Good. Using what you have to make things better, to fulfill your hopes, to make beauty, to show love to the loved (and the not-loved) is the best we can do.

Work is not the reason we are here, but it is the one thing we can control, mostly.

What made us is not our work. Nor a moment of biology from our parents. Not even what has been done to, or for, us.

What is hardest to accept is that our capacities, our outcomes, even those we created with extreme devotion and effort, as our son did, fall short of living the basic truth that we did not, and cannot, make life. We live it, and thank God we are here, however briefly.

I had very broken parents who were enormously successful. They, in turn, raised three broken children, who had every advantage. In the world they did all the right things of their time. In our world with them they could not know that God loved them. When the world does not love you the way you think it should, you work to make the love you wish were there. And you fail.

But who needs love if you are performing?

We need love because we never perform the way we wish we could.

The Love that is hardest to accept is not earned, it just is. We see it in our babies’ eyes, in the silent rush of connection with music or words of what we see. We call it beauty, but it is Love. Given to us. Not earned.

Work may be all we have, but it is not enough.