There are many different variations of the story of the Three Bricklayers. The oldest source I could find is a book by Bruce Barton published in 1927, which recounts a story from 1666 featuring architect and scientist, Sir Christopher Wren. Wren was responsible for rebuilding St. Paul’s Cathedral after a fire during the previous year that destroyed much of the city of London. In this version of the story, the bricklayers were referred to as “workmen” and stonecutters.
Here’s a short version of the story for kids to enjoy.
The Parable of the Three Bricklayers
A man was walking down the street and saw three bricklayers. “What are you building?” asked the man.
The first bricklayer said, “I’m laying bricks, just like I was told.”
The second bricklayer said, “I’m raising a wall to make money to feed my family.”
But the third bricklayer said, “I’m building a cathedral.”
The man walked away wondering how he thought about his own life and work.
The Meaning of the Parable of the Three Bricklayers
This story teaches us to find meaning in our work. The first bricklayer grudgingly shows up to work each day. The second bricklayer’s motivation is better since he wants to feed his family. But the third bricklayer’s motivation is best because he sees the bigger picture in the work that they are doing.
We can show up to school or our jobs and just do what we are told. We can also see our work as something to use to make money. Hopefully, that money is used to help others beyond ourselves. Above these two motivations, however, is the ability to see our work with a much bigger purpose. Our work and school can be transformed when we elevate it as a part of a bigger purpose. In some versions of the story, the third bricklayer gives credit to God as the provider of meaning for the work. One of life’s most important goals is to find work that matters. Find work that gives meaning to our days and contributes to a larger purpose.
Questions for Kids about the Parable of the Three Bricklayers
- Explain the differences between each bricklayer’s motivation for work.
- In which of three categories would you put your schoolwork? Why?
- Which subject areas in school align most with the third bricklayer? Why?
- How can you reframe schoolwork in the way the third bricklayer sees his work?
- What kind of job as an adult would motivate you like the third bricklayer?