(These are simply stories and not a how-to article.)
“We must work the works of Him who sent Me, as long as it is day; night is coming, when no man can work” (John 9:4).
My grandson Grant might have been 5 years old. Frequently, on my off day that summer, I would pick him up and we would spend the day together. We would go to the park and feed the ducks or head to the playground. Sometimes, we visited the zoo and later the playplace at our favorite McDonald’s.
That day, he agreed to go with me to pick blueberries.
Now, to get from the city–we live in the western part of metro New Orleans–to the country is a drive of an hour minimum. And to get to Talisheek, Louisiana, added another 30 minutes to the trip. Grant was buckled into the back seat and we talked all the way. From time to time, he wanted to know, “How much longer?” I soon decided this might have been a little more than he needed.
Eventually, we arrived at the blueberry farm. It’s a self-service thing where you take a plastic bucket and go in any direction. Later, you weigh up the product and leave money, so much per pound, in a slotted box.
Grant and I got our ball caps on, rubbed on some sun screen, grabbed our plastic buckets, and headed out into the field.
“Grandpa, this is fun.” I was glad to hear that. The long drive faded in his memory, apparently. That was good because the ride home would be just as long.
Five minutes later, I heard that little voice say, “Okay, grandpa. I’m finished. I’m ready to go home now.”
I laughed, “Grant, you see these two buckets. We can’t leave until we fill them up.”
That was not what this child wanted to hear.
“Grandpa, that’s going to take all day!”
I assured him it wouldn’t, but it did take an hour or more. (He slept most of the way back.)
Grant loved the idea of spending a day with grandpa picking blueberries, just not the reality.
The reality of working in the field involves dealing with the heat, the insects, the labor itself, and the boredom of it. Having grown up on the farm, I had learned to love being in a field by myself all day long. I would sing, practice public speaking, try to think up a joke, and do a hundred other things, all the while guiding my mule Toby up and down the rows of cotton or corn.
Grant eventually learned to enjoy work as he grew older. First it was cutting yards with his dad. These days, as a college student, he works in a restaurant in the city.
When I was Grant’s present age and a freshman in college, I still recall the excitement the night our class gathered in the school auditorium to elect officers. I knew every classmate by name and was confident I’d be elected to something. President would be nice. (In those days and in that school, no one announced for office or politicked. It was spontaneous or nothing.)
The election of president came and went and no one nominated me. Well, I thought, vice president would be nice. Nope. That was not to be either. Then, a classmate named Randy Scott (funny how we recall a name over 50 years later) nominated me for class secretary. In a runoff with Martha Lord, I won. “Well,” I thought, “I’ll take that. At least, it’s an office.”
A month later, when the class convened for a second meeting, the president called us to order, looked in my direction, and said, “We will dispense with the reading of the minutes of the last meeting.” Yikes! Minutes? I’m supposed to take minutes?
That was a comeuppance for me, one which no one but I realized. I had not wanted to do any actual work. I had wanted an office and a position. (Tellingly, I did not take minutes of that second meeting either! But, since there was no third meeting, it worked out. Smiley-face goes here.)
It’s not a good thing to learn about oneself that you want honors but not opportunities to make a difference.
However, at the same time, a contrary thing was happening.
The students of that college worked two days a week to help pay for their tuition. I had signed up for the campus crew, which meant we spent our days mowing the massive lawns or trimming hedges or fooling with trees. From time to time, when nothing else was pressing, the manager of our crew would truck us over to the highway to clear out undergrowth along the front of the school property. It was hard work. That’s when I discovered a practice among some of my classmates.
They had a custom which they called “frogging off.” That simply meant that as soon as Mr. Morehead, the manager, drove away, everyone ceased working. Sometimes, one of the boys would walk or hitchhike down the highway to the farmers marker and bring back a gallon of apple cider. Then, the lookout would spot Mr. Morehead’s pickup truck in the distance and everyone would grab an ax or pick or mattox.
Everyone except Joe.
My problem was that having grown up on the Alabama farm under the stern tutelage of Carl McKeever, a hard-working coal miner, I was a worker. “You give the man a day’s work for a day’s pay,” he taught his four boys. I honestly could no more have stopped working on the side of that highway to goof off than I could have walked into a store and robbed it. Either one was dishonest, we were taught.
Dad lived out his doctrine. Often, in addition to putting in eight hours inside the mines, he would raise a crop on the farm. Once his six children were old enough, he had us in the fields alongside him. We were amazed that he could outwork us all. Mom told us that when they were “courting,” this is what convinced her daddy that Carl might make a good son-in-law after all, in spite of several negatives. He knew how to work.
When we were teens, Dad worked the evening shift inside the mines, which required him to leave home shortly after 1 pm and arrive just before midnight. Most afternoons when we got off the school bus, Dad would have left us a note on a blackboard in his bedroom with instructions. “Pick the peas.” “Shell the corn.” “Plow the watermelons.”
One thing he did that puzzled me for years was that in early autumn, he would walk through the corn field planting peas. Sometime later, after the peas had grown up, grown old and become dry, he had us pick them and store in the corn crib. Then, during the cold winter days when we came in from school, he would have us spread a sheet in the yard and dump out the peas and jump up and down on them, to break the pods. When we pitched the whole business into the air, the wind would carry the husks away and we would be left with the peas. Those would be stored in sacks to be replanted the next autumn. That fall, we gathered them once more and that winter we shelled them. I sometimes wondered what the point of all that was.
Finally, as an adult with children of my own, it hit me. Dad was not raising peas. He was raising children.
We do a good thing when we teach children to work. If we can also teach them to enjoy it, we have done a very good thing.
We have told on these pages about a deacon in one of my churches who ambushed me as the new pastor to insist that he be given a place of service. He had all the training and degrees and certificates on his wall. I naively promised we would remedy this situation.
The next morning, the longtime associate pastor gave me the other side of that story. That gentleman killed every program he was given. They had tried him with the bus ministry and later leading the senior adults. “What he wants,” the associate said, “is an office with a title so he can throw his weight around.”
“He wants to be the authority, to order people around. Doing actual work is the farthest thing from his mind.”
Not a good thing to say about anyone, but it turned out to be the case for this man. When I told him I was unable to do what I had promised–I could not bring myself to tell him the whole truth about himself–he set himself up to destroy my ministry in that church. Too long a story to tell here, except that the Lord soon moved him out. (I called the pastor of the church where he landed to inform him. He assured me he was under no illusions about this guy.)
When Paul was penning his final epistle, he went out of his way to mention a friend named Onesiphorus. His words are worth noting….
“You are aware of the fact that all who were in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes. The Lord grant mercy to the house of Onesiphorus for he often refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chains; but when he was in Rome, he eagerly searched for me and found me. The Lord grant to him to find mercy from the Lord on that day–and you know very well what services he rendered at Ephesus” (2 Timothy 1:15-18).
Timothy may have known, since he was pastor of the Ephesian church. But we don’t know. Not that it matters. God knows. And that matters supremely.
Here is how the writer of Hebrews put it, so memorably:
“God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love you have shown toward His name in having ministered to the saints, and in still ministering” (Hebrews 6:10).
He sees, He notes, and He makes plans to reward the faithful workers.