Priorities: Things Unseen

He comes to the back door, Opa Voskamp, like they all do.

Never up the cobblestone walk to the front door, there off the porch, with its wreath and welcome mat, but to the back door off the garage, the one which purposely has no walkway at all from the laneway to the doorknob, and walk into the tossed shoes, the dropped bats and balls and shovels and gloves, in through the mudroom. In through my laundry, my piles, my underwear and crusted socks.

I try to smile. He tries not to look.

His own wife smelled of bleach their fifty one years of marriage. She met her sons at the back door with fresh clothes and a hamper, ready to take clothes smelling of sweat, cows, straw directly to the washing machine. You could bounce quarters off the stacks of linens in her closet. She lived for the kingdom; she didn’t home educate their nine children. I do, our six. I always seem to forget this minor detail. Does he?

I try to smile. It’s weak. I catch him looking at wrinkled jeans waiting the folding.

We hug long and I love this man, hunched frame, and I just close my eyes to the trail of papers and books across the counters, and he pats my back, takes a chair, mine, and I move to the other end of the table, serve the bowl of salad, pass the bread, the pork chops, and the children chatter, the men talk.

“You got that grain dryer wired this week, did you?” Opa asks between the mouthfuls, over children laughter.

“Yes, that’s finished up,” Farmer Husband pours water into his stainless steel cup, his Dad’s too. “And we got that aeration floor laid out in the grain bin at the other farm too.”

“You get a lot done in a week, don’t you?” Father smiles at Son, glints my way, and I warm with the gratitude, and Son shrugs his shoulders, smiles in thanks for the affirmation of a Father. “Well I guess we just try everyday.”

Try everyday. I do. Really, I do. I laugh, shake my head. Who would know it, looking around here most days?

I get up to fill the pitcher at the tap, sapling child needing rewatering. Test the temperature with the fingers, then fill. Who can see the spelling lessons? The breakfast made this morning? The next chapter of The Yearling read, the last child rocked early in the morning, the prayers whispered middle of the morning? I try in a week and a lot may get done, but the right things? Like water through fingers…

I water this grove of children. The water pours and think how I want a crumbless, smudgeless, spotless house, a house with empty laundry baskets, empty sinks, empty garbage cans, with floors like mirrors and mirrors like water, and a pantry lined neat like books in the study and pies lining the counter like sweet children all in a row. I want the (seeming) perfection all day that only happens at night when the whirl slows to a still and the six children sleep, their books and their legos, their papers and their creations, all finding their resting places too. I want a father-in-law who walks in mid-spin and sees what I have done with a day, with a week, and smiles his satisfaction.

I want things seen.

These can be idols.

This, I am learning.

Again, again I return to the story of Abba Paul, that desert monk who wove baskets and prayers.

While other monks lived close enough to cities to sell their handiwork in the markets, Abba Paul lived such a distance that the cost of transportation would exceed any profits from selling the baskets. Nonetheless, each day he collected palm fronds and worked as faithfully as if basket making were his primary means of support.

And come the end of the year, when his cave overflowed with long months of toil, he took torch to the work of his hands and the flames devoured and rose higher and cackled long into the night. Then, come morning, the heat died away, satiated. And Abba Paul stood in the long quiet and the wind blew away the ashes of all his work.

Abba Paul had nothing to show for the work. Product made papery ash.

Too often, mostly, sadly, I want product, others to see product, so yes, they can see: I have worth. Stinking idols. This, I think this is why I struggle to stop to pray at fixed times throughout the run of a day. If I stop doing, will I have merit? Will I still exist if I stop the producing?

How do I forget that I actually exist more, fully, wholly, when I do that which I was made for? Worship. Communion. Prayer, hidden and intangible, it is the day’s true product, it’s ultimate purpose.

So Abba Paul knew. The product is secondary…. Perhaps even pointless. It’s the prayers, the relationship, the love while doing the work, that hold the meaning, the merit.

The process of prayer is the real product.

That process may not be seen when walking in the back door.

Only the eyes of a stilled, seeking heart can observe things not visible.

“Are there any more potatoes?” A young son grins, lifts his empty plate, hopeful. I pile his happiness high, scoop out the last of the mashed spuds. Morning’s work complete and gladly gone.

The bowl’s empty.

I stack the dirty plates and children joke and I catch Tall Girl’s eyes, mouth for her to pass out the Bibles and she smiles and nods.

Again, today, I must: Slay the idol of the seen.

Today, a thousand times again today, I will: preach the truth to this soul prone to wander. I will seek the affirming smile of Father.

Unseen. Things Unseen. Invest in Things Unseen.”

The dishes pile on the counter and we sit, read Scripture, take the hand beside us, and we pray.

….pray to your Father,
who is unseen

~Mt. 6:6

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

~ 2 Cor. 4:18

What Withstands A Day’s Heat

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Photos: trying to balance a life of things seen and unseen
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