Sometimes I get envious of painters, plumbers, landscapers, carpenters and others who get to work with their hands and have something to show for it at the end of every day, or at least every week.
What do I and other “knowledge workers” have to show for it every seven days?
Or most of it is “virtual” – words that are hidden inside our computers and servers: in files, documents, reports, spreadsheets, and so on. But there’s not a lot of physicality to this.
Some of these words may get posted on the Internet – but effectively disappear off the bottom of the page every few days
Some of the words become sermons which also largely evaporate into the air as they are spoken.
For knowledge workers in general, and for pastors in particular, there often just isn’t anything to show for weeks and weeks, months and months, years and years of mental sweat, blood, and tears.
One answer to this frustrating sense of futility is more faith, to believe that God will bless His Word written and spoken. We sow the seed, another waters, but God gives the increase. Yes, we believe all that – most of the time.
But we’re still human, we still have a basic human need to see some fruit, some result, something to show for all the hours and hours in the study and on our knees.
Another answer is to mow the lawn (or, in Michigan, to shovel the snow in the winter).
I admit it, cutting the grass has become one of the most satisfying things I do all week. It meets that basic human need to have something physical, something visible, something to point to, something beautiful to see and admire.
Apart from that weekly satisfaction infusion, I also try to do one major physical project every year. One year, I laid a patio. This year I built a deck in our yard. It’s something tangible I can point to and say, “I did that!” (with God’s help, of course).
I hope this isn’t too unspiritual, but when I feel I’ve got little or nothing to show for a semester’s work – how do you measure whether Hebrew exegesis lectures really worked? – I cut the grass, paint a room, or go and work on my new deck. I get my muscles sore and hands dirty, basically.
Another pastor I know spends his regular day off doing carpentry. Maybe, some days, the Apostle Paul got a greater sense of accomplishment gluing and stitching tents together than gluing and stitching ripped churches together.
Yes, I also pray for more faith that God will bless my lectures, even though I’m unlikely to see or hear of the results in my students’ future ministries. I pray for fruit from my sermons and pastoral visits in my congregation.
But like many knowledge workers there’s still a little bit of me – maybe it’s a really weak and carnal bit – that I feel just needs the regular wee encouragement of something that I can see and touch. Grass, paving stone, and wood have worked for me. The dirtier and harder the work, the better.
But, strangely, that physical yard work has also motivated, inspired, and energized me to do more spiritual Word work too.
Hope that’s OK.