I see a lot of it working on a Christmas tree farm. In fact with hundreds of acres of pine trees it's nearly all I can see. The deep vault of Pennsylvania sky bends in to touch the mountains, and the countless conifers around me rise to meet it. Lately however, the sky has been dark and overcast, shutting the valley in like the lid on a coffin.
I work alone, for the most part.
My job is to prune the trees. It's hard work, and takes hours to finish even a few rows. This prolonged solitude provides me with plenty of time to think and to pray. Indeed, I can hardly avoid my thoughts, surrounded so completely in silence.
At times I have stopped to think about the situation. Here I am, standing alone among thousands of pine trees, moving my saw blade up and down, up and down. I'm dead tired, and soaked to the bone in dew and pine resin. Before I can catch it, a dangerous word forms on my lips. Tilting my head back I gaze at the low hanging clouds and ask, "Why?" Why am I here? What am I doing? I have dreams to chase, desires to meet. I want to have purpose, influence, and significance. What significance can be found among these trees? The sky is silent. I return to pruning, and the questions rise and fall with my saw blade.
Later I am spreading fertilizer around shade trees. On my knees in the mud, the questions find me again. How, God, is this significant? I want my life to have more meaning than just a bit of dirt beneath a tree. I want to discover Your calling for me, to embark on life's adventure. I want to bring Your name the glory it deserves. It's not that I want to make something of myself, but of my Maker. How can I do that here?
This time, an answer comes. I realize that God is just as present here in the mud as He is in the holiest sanctuary. With that thought comes peace. After all, if God is here, how can I not then find contentment? Is His presence not enough to satisfy?
I begin to meditate on the words of Psalm 139, "I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence! If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me." Yes, God is with me in the mud, even as droll as it seems, and that makes it alright. With that answer I ask something else.
If God is here, can I not then bring Him glory? How can I, working in the muck? Yet even God Himself once plunged His hands into the mud, and from it brought forth a miracle. A second passage came to mind, 1 Corinthians 10:31, "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." Yes, it is not only possible to glorify God through humble work, it is demanded that we do so.
I once heard a story of three masons hard at work. A passing gentleman asked each in turn what they were doing. The first replied "I'm laying a brick." The second said "I'm making a wall." And the third, "I'm building a cathedral."
Perhaps the significance of our work in life is not dependent on what we do but how we view it. Yes, I'm trimming a tree. But there's more to it than that. I'm building a future for myself. I'm learning to work hard to earn money. But it's not just a paycheck, there's more to it than that. It's the means to an education by which I'll follow my dreams. This place I'm at in life right now, it may not seem all that great, but it's a stepping stone to greatness, a necessary part of the journey.
Perhaps when you want to reach for the stars you have to start with your hands in the mud.
Written June, 2009