November 22, 2017

Wisdom Week: Life is the Farm

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To focus on technique is like cramming your way through school. You sometimes get by, perhaps even get good grades, but if you don’t pay the price day in and day out, you never achieve true mastery of the subjects you study or develop an educated mind.

Did you ever consider how ridiculous it would be to try to cram on a farm — to forget to plant in the spring, play all summer and then cram in the fall to bring in the harvest?

• Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

• • •

Life is the farm. Life is not school.

This is one of the most important “wisdom” lessons I have learned in my life (though it is stretching almost beyond credulity to say I’ve “learned” it).

I was a crammer in school. I waited until the last minute, pulled an all-nighter, dumped all the information into my head ’til it was fairly bursting, went to the test that morning and poured it all out again on paper.

Did well in school.

However, I had absolutely no idea what to do once I became a young pastor. Well, Sunday was easy. (Not saying it was good, just easy.) Put together a talk, pull a service together, officiate, greet.

But what was hard was Monday through Saturday. The life of a pastor. A life of study. A life of prayer. A life of paying attention to myself and my parishioners in daily life.

Sundays are important — celebrative and essential. The first day defines and energizes our lives by means of our Lord’s resurrection and gives a resurrection shape to the week. But the six days between Sundays are just as important, if not so celebrative, for they are the days to which the resurrection shape is given. Since most pastoral work takes place on the six days, an equivalent attention must be given to them, practicing the art of prayer in the middle of the traffic.

• Eugene Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor

Sunday was like being in school. Cram, perform, go home.

Monday through Saturday was life on the farm. Hard work. Attention. Preparation. Patience. Dealing with unforeseen problems. Staying ahead of the weeds and pests. Watering. Cultivating. Praying. Waiting. No days off ’til long after harvest.

Life is difficult.

This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult — once we truly understand and accept it — then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.

• M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled

Every good and worthwhile thing in life is like the farm, not school. Even school, when done right, is the farm.

Friendship, marriage, raising children, vocation, neighborliness, responsible citizenship. Character.

18097061980_ab19652d6d_zFarm. Farm. Farm.

Frankly, it’s always sounded like a lot of work to me, and since my sin of choice is acedia, I have had to find theological justification for avoiding or trying to find shortcuts in that work.

Thank God I’m a Protestant! What could be more convenient than a tradition that downplays good works and encourages faith alone?

So I’ve been a “grace” Christian. Lots of good things there that I wouldn’t trade, but I’m looking at the shadow side of it today. Such has been my immaturity and foolishness so often that I’ve thought there is no grace or faith (at least not faith alone) on the farm. It all looks like “works” to me, with a nod to how much, in the end, we depend on the weather.

I’m a fool.

The same Jesus who said to me,

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest”

said in the very next breath, 

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me…” (Matt. 11:28-29).

The very One who called me away from burdensome works into a place of “rest” defined that by saying, “Come to me, come work on my farm. Let me teach you a better kind of work — a work in which you will find rest.”

So I guess it never has been about work vs. no work, works vs. faith, effort vs. grace, labor vs. rest.

It is about work which is rest. Which brings rest.

Because it’s done with Jesus. Because it involves entering a new kind of life with him where all the rules change: He gives us rest from our works and then gives us rest in his works.

Now that’s a farm on which I want to work with all my heart and soul and mind and strength.

Comments

  1. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.

    My experience has been that accepting it once doesn’t do the trick. Everyday and moment, I have to accept it again and again. Maybe this conversion, to this truth, is one that is undertaken again and again, for the rest of life.

    In that case, Peck isn’t exactly right. It may get easier to accept each time it’s accepted, but the need to accept returns again and again. The possibility of opting out continues to exist, though the window gets smaller and smaller.

    • “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said ‘Repent’, He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” Martin Luther, 95 Theses, #1

      • Dana Ames says:

        Why do you increase your bonds? Take hold of your life before your light grows dark and you seek help and do not find it. This life has been given to you for repentance; do not waste it in vain pursuits.

        – St. Isaac the Syrian

        Sounds a lot like farming to me – constant turning (shuv).

        Dana

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      I suspect the truthyness of this comes in part from ones disposition and history. If you’ve walked amongst the Wretched Urgency crowd it likely rings with more truth. Also the more one is predisposed to Urgency [aka anxiety?].

      • Dana Ames says:

        In my whole Evangelical experience, there was only one church that acknowledged that life is difficult and may not get better externally; all the others were either “Life is difficult – but have faith and God will turn things around – glory to gawd!” or “Life is difficult, but we can forget about it during this church service, which is the only time we’re allowed to be emotional about anything.” Of course, not everyone had those attitudes; there were wise and sober people all throughout who didn’t buy into party lines. But they were not in the majority. Sometimes it was really confusing.

        Dana

      • @Adam,

        That all living beings suffer is the first of the Buddhas Fourfold Noble Truths; aptly enough, his was an age of much anxiety, with the development of a newly affluent merchant class that had recently acquired wealth and leisure along with their rapidly changing social roles. The primary audience of the Buddha’s teaching was from among this new “middle-class” group, and he was speaking mostly to them.

  2. Wise thoughts, CM. Too bad I often have trouble confusing both kinds of work.

  3. Wonderful, Mike! One of your best and most encouraging, because most true. I’ll take the image of the farm with me today as I prepare for classes and can tomatoes — now THERE’S a chore I wish could be crammed!

  4. Appreciated this, Chaplain Mike. Sometimes it almost seems like a cruel joke to prepare young people for life by sending them to school and to prepare them for the Christian life by sending them to youth group.

  5. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    I’ve found the metaphor of The Elevator and The Stairs similar, and helpful: “””[The] habit of “taking the elevator” leaves us dependent and unprepared for inescapable difficulties when they do come, and cheats us out of a lot of long-term ease. Life is easier when you take the stairs.””” [true both metaphorically, and in the most literal sense].

    As a ‘crammer’ myself, this is so true.

  6. Excellent post, wise words, and great references. “Road Less Traveled”, though not christian per se, was a big (lovng) kick in the pants. Working with Jesus does indeed bring rest, no matter how exhausting. Great job.

  7. Grandfather Adam started out with that easy yoke of Jesus, didn’t miss his water ’til his well went dry. He went from being a light-hearted gardener to a grubbing farmer in an instant, set the pattern for us all. Jesus set another pattern, the way back to the garden, and we might finally be catching on a little, if we can shake loose the arguments and doctrine.

    No, you can’t work your way back, but you can’t get back without strong effort, intent, determination, will power, all of which sounds suspiciously like hard work, and certainly seems that way. Acedia? Oh my, oh my, oh my. Yes, life is difficult. Fortunately we have a Helper. If we remember. That’s hard too.

    I tend to see it more as school myself, but school for me was like the farm, gotten thru with clenched teeth and grit and self-medication. I’m finally starting to grasp a better way, better late than never. Sure helps to know others are heading the same direction. Blessed be.

  8. I’ve not read “The Road Less Traveled” so it may be unfair of me to take Peck’s comment out of context but I disagree with his statement that “once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

    Life is difficult and it does matter that it is difficult. I used to run marathons and they were difficult. That is why I prepared myself as best I could before undertaking them; I trained, I ate right, I rested–all the physical things to prepare myself for the task but, more importantly, I learned from those who had done it before. But doing those things did not help me to “transcend” the difficulty of running a marathon–it was still difficult–but doing those things did allow me to cope with the difficulty even when I encountered contingencies I had not anticipated.

    Likewise, life is difficult. We prepare as best we can, especially by learning from those who have gone before us. It does not make life any less difficult but it does help us to cope and to deal with contingencies we do not anticipate.

    Having said that, I have approached life like a person who enters a marathon having never run a step in his life; you can probably struggle through but it’s not the wisest nor easiest way to do it.

    • I think that when Peck asserts that it “no longer matters”, he is not saying that it becomes easy. He is simply saying that difficulty and suffering and pain move from being central to being incidental.

      You accept the suffering involved in running marathon. The suffering is not central. The suffering is not the central fact of your race. Rather, the running is. The suffering does not go away, but does not define your race.

      In and early scene in the movie Lawrence of Arabia, T.E. Lawrence says something like, “Of course it hurts. But it’s a matter of whether one minds that it hurts.”

  9. My image of the wise man or woman is that of one at rest. They seem to recognize the state of affairs as they are in truth, as in “we are seated (currently) in heavenly places.” There is a sense of having what we are looking for and already being where we are headed. That’s peace and that’s rest. I wish I could embrace it on a daily basis. Very elusive in this world which does not tend to support any such state of mind.

    • “My image of the wise man or woman is that of one at rest. They seem to recognize the state of affairs as they are in truth, as in “we are seated (currently) in heavenly places.””

      Yes.

      “There is a sense of having what we are looking for and already being where we are headed.”

      Yes; I had thought by this stage of my life I would have a sense of knowing what I was looking for and already be there–I mostly don’t and I’m not, therefore, I lack much wisdom.

      “I wish I could embrace it on a daily basis. Very elusive in this world which does not tend to support any such state of mind.”

      Full circle–embracing this daily brings rest which is the image of wisdom.

  10. Dana Ames says:

    Thanks, Ch Mike – this is, as Damaris said, one of your best. Short and the best kind of sweet.

    (Your T”hank God I’m a Protestant! What could be more convenient than a tradition that downplays good works and encourages faith alone?” made me laugh out loud…)

    Dana

  11. Ronald Avra says:

    Very good post

  12. Your post on acedia a couple of weeks ago led me to purchase a book called “The Noonday Devil: Acedia, the Unnamed Evil of Our Times.” It surveys the history of acedia in Christian thought, from the Desert Fathers (primarily Evagrius) on through St. Thomas Aquinas.

    The last part of your post reminded me of the section about William of Ockham. St. Thomas Aquinas taught (I’m sure I’m butchering this) that acts have inherent, natural orientations towards either good or evil. Acts or things have a natural telos. With William of Ockham, though, the idea of a natural telos fell away. An act wasn’t good or evil because of anything in and of itself, but because it was declared so by the law. It was a sort of separation of morality and spirituality. The result was that the orientation switched to “This is good because the law says we should do it,” whereas the focus had previously been, “The law says we should do this because it is good.”

    It’s so much easier for acedia to swoop in when the only impetus is some outside authority.

  13. Wow, this whole post is EXTREMELY resonant with me! Matthew 11:28-30 is one of my favourite passages in the Bible, and the challenge of reconciling verses 28 and 29 constantly confronts me as well.

    I’m well into middle age but only been a Christian a few years, and I have a finely honed natural tendency towards “acedia,” which my theology as a newly-minted Christian only helped to enable.

    We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone (hallelujah!), but I too have used the grace-vs-works dichotomy as a cop-out far too many times.

    I too had to learn the hard way over several years that life is as much in the six days of hard work on the farm as in the one day of celebration and rest. It IS a daily walk, as others have pointed out.

  14. To put icing on the cake, I was asked to give a devotional for our weekly prayer service this morning. I was going to focus on Jeremiah 6:16 (“…Stand by the roads and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and you will find rest for your souls…”), talk about what the good way is, and finish with Matthew 11:28-30….

    …BUT I was up late working last night, had to roughly put together my notes at midnight then set the alarm to get up at 5 AM so I could get to church on time; and…I slept through my alarm and missed the service entirely!

    To counterbalance it, though, I DID have an critically important early-morning call for work which I would have missed if I’d gone to the service, so maybe God allowed me to sleep out of fulfilling one responsibility in order not to miss another important responsibility.

    Ah, new lessons to learn every day…

    • I used to underachieve in multiple areas of my life, and was rebuked by God for that. Now I strive to overachieve (and by God’s grace, often succeed). There are lessons to be learned either way…and I still haven’t completely outgrown some of my old habits. (Did I mention that I finished a movie first before resuming work last night, then took extra time for that before tackling the devotional, and thought I could do all that AND get everything done today that has to get done?)

  15. “Thank God I’m a Protestant! What could be more convenient than a tradition that downplays good works and encourages faith alone?”

    Protestants (at least those of a Lutheran persuasion) believe life and sanctification are lived out in ones vocation. At a minimum, I reference Luther’s table of duties. We don’t do God’s work (or God doesn’t do his work in us) outside the context of vocation.

    Perhaps the German pietists influenced the idea of religion detacted from daily life. I don’t know when ones place of work became reduced to nothing more than a proselytizing field.

    • detached. Good grief. I can’t even blame spell check.

    • I have seen so many videos of Francis Chan belittling vocation and boring daily life. The idea is that you can’t serve God unless you receive a call to go off and do something radical. In fact, you’re not a Christian unless you’re running off to do something crazy. In my opinion, that is neither Protestant nor Christian.

      • Keith Green had the same message (it is the exception to stay).

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Just look at their names & terminology:
        On Fire.
        Acquire the Fire.
        Teen Mania.
        You’re not REALLY For The Cause unless you’re going off into Darkest Africa as a Missionary passing out tracts as they put you into the stewpot, Ooga Booga.

        Chairman Mao’s Red Guard were On Fire and off doing something Radical for The Cause.

        ISIS Jihadis are On Fire doing something Radical for The Faith.

  16. “Before enlightenment, do laundry, pay bills.
    “After enlightenment, do laundry, pay bills.”

    • Lol!

      The enlightenment is in doing the laundry and paying the bills. Samsara (the world of ceaseless becoming) and Nirvana (the world unchanging being) are the same. Maybe.

  17. I may just be projecting my own tangled knot onto others, but it seems to me that an understanding of the wisdom tradition and an understanding of acedia go hand in hand. By wisdom tradition I mean to include and probably center contemplation as the primary means of finding unity with God. By acedia, I’m not at all sure just what this is. I have studied enough to think that all those who have spoken of it thru the millennia are not at all sure just what it is as well. But it seems to be very real and I recognize it more and more in myself. I’m starting to grasp why it used to be considered the primary spiritual affliction. It helps to know that others are working on this. I hope we might focus on this some in times ahead along with wisdom and contemplation.

    • Dana Ames says:

      Charles, my understanding from the Eastern POV is that it is basically not caring about the condition of one’s relationship with God and the process of healing that relationship presumes. It’s not the same as sloth, though laziness could be one way acedia manifests. It’s more on the “giving up” end of the spectrum.

      Dana

      • Dana, thanks, that’s how I read much of the Eastern take too and it is borne out by the basic meaning of the Greek word behind it. And I agree it’s not sloth either, tho it is often defined as such and may look and feel quite similar. The desert fathers called it the noontime demon, not that they meant you could throw your inkpot at it to send it packing. Also called the chief of the deadly sins, tho later dropped from the list altogether, at least in the west. Was noticed again in medieval times and then seemed to drop pretty much out of sight until more recent times. Definitely connected with spiritual devotion and the monastic life, but observed in secular life as well, at least by report. Lots of pieces to this puzzle and my sense is it will only make good sense when all the pieces are put together. Each individual piece may call itself the answer but so far I’m still digging.