Greener Grass

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I was talking with a twenty something guy after wedding recently.  He was working for a small construction company, mostly doing residential renovations. I mentioned that both of my sons had summer construction jobs and that I’d been slightly jealous that they got to go to work wearing hard hats and safety boots.  I’ve had safety boots before, but never a job that required a hard hat.  With a knowing grin the young man said, “The grass is always greener ....”  Then he stopped himself and added, “But I really wouldn’t want to do your work.”

The grass is always greener.

I have been somewhat jealous of my sons. I do find something appealing about work that employs your body as well as your mind and that allows you to see what you have accomplished at the end of the day.  I was inspired by Matthew B. Crawford’s book, Shop Class as Soul Craft; an inquiry into the value of work.  I agree that blue collar work is undervalued and that the trades are a life worth pursuing.  I am glad that my sons have had construction experience; even if that is not what they end up doing.  But that is not what the young man saw in my comment. 

He saw someone looking for greener grass.  He saw someone who was forgetting about what it is like to come home at the end of a day with a sore back and aching knees, and a thin film of drywall dust clogging every pore. He was about to say that his job was not all fun and games, but then he remembered something worse.  What I do.

The grass is always greener, except when it isn’t. 

I know that any job includes its share of drudgery. What troubles me is that the young man could see no green grass in my job, and that I was too willing to agree with him. When he said, “I wouldn’t want to do what you do,” I answered that he wasn’t the first person to tell me that. I’d added that a lot of people act as if they know my job better than I do, but very few actually want to do it. That was a little too cynical of me, even if there is some truth in it.  More importantly it misses too much.    

I know that there is plenty of brown grass on my side of the fence. Ministry includes times of just plugging away at a sermon when the words just will not fit together.  Ministry means dealing with the hundred and fifty expectations that a hundred people seem to have. Ministry is sometimes taking care of the administrative tasks that no one thinks you should be doing but would not get done otherwise. Ministry also means dealing with the conflicts and confusion any group of people will have.  There is enough brown grass on my side of the fence.  There is also green if you have the eyes to see it.

I was coming home from a meeting and decided I had just enough time to stop in on a man in a nursing home.  I really didn’t want to.  I was tired and out of sorts.  He was the same.  He complained about staff, other residents, and family members.  But when I called him on it, he burst into tears and I realised he was afraid.  On the way home it occurred to me that this is what I was called to. This is one reason the church provides my family with “proper support’ (to use the church order’s language). They do so that I am free to sit with a man who was scared because he was losing his mind to cancer and offer him words of grace. 

There is green on my side of the fence. There is the humility that comes with being trusted with such moments in peoples’ lives. There is the joy that comes with being free to dig deep into Biblical texts and discover something you had not seen before. There is the pleasure of helping a group of people discern God’s direction for their ministry. There is the thrill of writing when the words flow and the sermon almost writes itself. There is the electric quiet of a church sanctuary when people are really listening, and that moment when a light goes on in a catechism students eyes. There is green on my side of the fence, even though I sometimes need to be reminded to look for it.

Yes, I was a little jealous of my sons’ hard hats and safety boots. I am glad they've had that experience. But, the grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence.

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Thanks for the reminder to open my eyes, Noman.  Well-written and well-said.

Norm,

Enjoyed your article...a lot. Reminded me of our son's running up and down the street saying, "My Dad's got a job! My Dad's got a job!" because I was heading to work at a factory after being on staff at a church and carrying a lunch pail.

As one who now looks back, although still riding a tall horse yet, I am glad that I thought I was on the greener side of the grass most of the time. Oh, those days when someone wrote an anonymous letter or two were days of burnt grass, but most often when I saw the freedom of hours, I thought, who else can come and go as I do? Writing sermons is still easier than doing what I thought God's Word was suggesting and sharing people's lives at their best and even worst  remains a privilege that only their Dr's or spouses get to do.

The grass of a shepherd involved in the lives of his/her charges has been something that I've enjoyed most of the time, and consider myself most blessed to be able to say it. As I told a son once on his 10th anniversary. "Well, son, what a blessed and happy ten years you've enjoyed." and he answered, "Well, Dad, be realistic, let's say 9 out of 10 years in total. " Well, that's still  90%, a passing grade and pretty good showing, don't you think?