He was 22 and I was 21 when we bought the farm. It was April 26th — 25 years ago this week.
When one of the travelling feed salesman pulled into the farmyard that first spring, he rolled down his pick-up truck window, and hollered to the Farmer: “Hey, your dad around?”
“I’m sure he is — over at his farm,” the Farmer grinned and it took that sales guy more than a beat or two to realize that the baby-faced boy, not looking a day over 16, was the man of this land, trying to make a go of this dirt on his own. How someone sees you doesn’t get to change how you see your dream.
We worked 18 hours day and scrounged to buy flats of Kraft Dinner when it was on sale and I picked rocks with a baby strapped on my back and on our second wedding anniversary we got out of the barn in time to see the sunset across the fields and I told the Farmer that’s all I’d ever need: If we walked into the barn before sun-up, if, now and then, we could finish up evening chores and walk out of the barn before sun down.
This is the part of the story where the hustlers tell you that this is the dream that hard work built — but this is not that story, because this world doesn’t work like that.
We weren’t here but 2 years when the price of a pig dropped to a low of 8$ — a pig that costs 30$ to feed and raise. On every single pig we were working from dark to dark to raise, we weren’t even breaking even, we were actually losing 20$ and it was breaking us. Two 23-24 year old kids trying to make a go of it as farmers, working to the bone, we were haemorrhaging out the side financially, teetering at the precarious edge of bankruptcy.
Sometimes all the hard work in the world can’t change that there are all kinds of systems in this world working hard against you. Hard work can only do so much good in a hard and broken world.
Sure: The hustlers keep hawking the idea that some American dream can be churned out of a pie in the sky vending machine — drop in the coin of your hustle and the universe dutifully spits out your dream.
But: This isn’t a vending machine world. This is our Father’s world. This is a world of mystery, of beauty and pain and grace, of a layered story that is always larger than our own.
Anyone betting on an American Dream vending machine universe is betting on karma. They’re putting dibs down on everybody getting their just desserts, but this isn’t a just world.
This is a world where brave single moms can work back to back shifts and can’t keep a roof over her babies’ heads, where dads can burn candles at both ends and can’t make ends meet, and this is a complicated, nuanced, busted world with systems that are broken, and health that breaks down, and dreams that slam into unanticipated disasters, and life is beautiful and brutal and can’t be reduced to any guru’s hustling formula.
This is the part of the story I can say I am sure of: We need carry each other tenderly, because each of our stories are mysteries.
The point of working hard isn’t to get somewhere in life, but to give thanks back to Someone for your life.
Regardless of what Wall Street touts: Work isn’t about creating fleeting wealth. Work is about faithful worship.
This is not trite cliche, this is truest reality:
”The Lord God took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15) The Hebrew word for work is avodah — the same word found in the Ten Commandments, “Six days you shall work….” (Exodus 34:21), and the exact same word we read in the exodus: “When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain” (Exodus 3:12). The word that is translated as “worship” — in Hebrew, that is the same word as work, avodah.
Avodah. Work is worship.
Six days you will avodah-work, because the six days of your work is your avodah-worship.
Work isn’t to build up a reasonable (or unreasonable) amount of equity — it’s to be our reasonable act of worship.
Nearly four hundred years ago, a humble sage peeling potatoes as an act of worship, Brother Lawrence, said, “Our sanctification does not depend as much on changing our activities as it does on doing them for God, rather than ourselves.”
Work isn’t what we do to get ourselves ahead, it is what we do to give ourselves to God.
“So here’s what… to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering” ( Rom. 12:1 MSG).
There is daily relief in this: Work isn’t what we do to get what the good life has to offer — work is what we do as our offering to a good God.
That May, I was 23 years old, with a clinging 11 month old baby slung on my hip, a 3 year old tangled round my ankles, and was swaying swollen pregnant with our third babe, when I transplanted peony bushes, scratched in a patch of strawberries, and planted a hedge of floppy cedar tree fingerlings, not more than a hand high, at the edge of farm field. And I tried to imagine how tall those trees’d be, and how old we’d look, if we survived, if we could somehow hold on, if, after 25 years of payments, we finally finished making the last one on this little square of dirt.
This is what we did for these 25 years of farming here, and this is the part of the story that trumps anything that the hustlers are shilling:
Be completely all in with everything in you, and completely openhanded about outcome.
Be passionate about your work as worship, but yield the yield to God.
And I look across the farm table this morning and the babies on backs are now grown men with strong backs. And that young, baby-faced boy who came here 25 years ago is now a weathered Farmer with greying stubble and crow’s feet framing wise eyes, and that cedar hedge at the edge of the field is now about 25 feet tall — and only by a mystery of God, the farmer and his wife are still here.
For 25 spins around the sun, we’ve planted and harvested and raised crops of corn, pigs, soybeans and wheat and one and a half a dozen kids and we have survived by grace alone and we have become the old people I couldn’t even imagine, and we are more scarred than I could have ever imagined, and the way through has been, and always will be, avodah.
Our work is our worship and we work wholeheartedly not to gain more, but to give God all that we have.
Avodah is what changes our metrics of success changes how we assess, evaluate, compare, avodah changes everything.
He smiles and passes the plate of bacon down to me and that is always the only good plan: Be the kind of worker whose work speaks her worship.
He and I, no matter how old we get, will avodah till our last breath and we buy the farm again.
Pick up our story of The Broken Way and in a broken world, with a whole bunch of broken dreams and busted plans — discover the way through a brokenhearted world.
This one’s for the brave and the busted and the real and dreamers and the sufferers and the believers — and the ones who desperately need real hope.