One of the last tasks I had to do before we left for our vacation was to mow the lawn. One of the first tasks I had to do after getting back was to mow the lawn. There was a time when I enjoyed mowing lawns–I remember when the first lawn mower showed up at our childhood home. It was a push mower–no, not push the motorized mower rather than sit on the ride one mower. It had no motor except for the person pushing. I really wanted to mow the lawn when that mower showed up.
But after pushing the things for a few minutes, I discovered that mowing lawns was not a particularly good source of entertainment or fun. Unfortunately, it became one of those things that needed to be done whether I wanted to do or not. Even when I finally managed to end up somewhere where there was a mower with a real motor, the process of mowing lawns never really got beyond a have to. As the mowers got older and broke down, there was some fun working on them to get them going again but a repaired mower is good for only one thing so even doing repairs lost some of its fun.
When we moved into the house belonging to the church my wife pastors, one of the men who looks after the house told me that they normally asked the minister to mow the lawn but that I should probably see that as my job–secretly, I was hoping that maybe they had planted spiritually mature grass that didn’t need mowing. They graciously provided the mower and I less than graciously mow the lawn at regular intervals, including right before and right after vacation.
It is a duty, I guess–and duty has become something of a negative thing in our culture. If we aren’t excited, thrilled, edified, fulfilled or something like that, the cultural pressure is to avoid it. Unfortunately, there are a lot of things that cannot be avoided. Like mowing the lawn, a lot of life needs to be taken care of, no matter how unfulfilling or unedifying or unfun it actually is.
I think the issue of “duty” has some significant spiritual roots. Our relationship with God and our service of God doesn’t always thrill us. When I was doing the work associated with my ninth funeral in three months, I didn’t get much of a thrill out of the process–the accumulated time and fatigue associated with so many funerals in such a short time meant that in the end, I was doing it because it was my job (or duty). I gave it my best, I used all my pastoral abilities, I worked hard–but given a choice, I would have preferred to watch TV.
The sermons I preached just before vacation were done the same way. I like the people I work with; I worked hard on the sermon preparation; I used my best presentation processes; I gave the sermons everything I normally do–but I would much rather have been starting the vacation a day early.
Duty and discipline may be out of favour in our culture of self-gratification and feeling good but they are an essential part of life and faith. I don’t always feel like doing the Christian thing–but part of my commitment to God is a commitment to doing what he asks of me, even if I don’t want to or won’t feel uplifted because of it. Sometimes, we need to do things just because they need to be done and we need to be the one doing them. Some suggest that the self-gratification comes from knowing that we have done the right thing–and that sometimes works. But in the end, the ninth funeral has to be done no matter what I feel and I have to do it because that is my commitment to the church and to God. Part of my commitment to God was a commitment to accept Jesus as Saviour and Lord–the Saviour part I like but the Lord part I sometimes struggle with, since it means that I have made a commitment to putting God first, not me. But then again, wasn’t the initial separation between God and humanity a result of humanity putting themselves first? That didn’t work out too well for anyone.
Anyway, the lawn needs mowed again–back to duty.
May the peace of God be with you.