In the past few weeks, on the days when I have been awake and motivated enough to squeeze in a short jog before Jonathan leaves for work, Katie and I have traded our long morning walk for the never-ending task known as yard work. I am strategic about my timing, putting her into the Ergo immediately after breakfast and making my way outside when the sun still hides behind the house. The heat of summer is not a particular friend of mine; I work in the shade and retreat inside to my much cooler living room with a glass of ice water once the bright rays of late morning begin to infiltrate my space. With a few hours here and a few hours there, I am making slow but steady progress turning the weed-infested wasteland that is our front yard into something that is somewhat respectable and welcoming.
I’ve focused my efforts on the area right up against the house, under the bedroom windows. Jonathan planted bushes there a few years back, bushes that have been hard to see since about one week after he put them in the ground, surrounded as they have been by a forest of dandelions. In an attempt to reclaim the land, I started by weeding, kneeling on the hard ground to pull the pesky plants up at the base, filling multiple wheelbarrow loads with the yellow flowers, and then moved to mulching, in the hopes that I won’t have to repeat this effort any time soon.
For this engineer, accustomed to sitting in a comfortable chair in an air-conditioned office, yard work qualifies as significant physical toil. All this bending and pulling and weeding and shoveling and raking requires a great deal of time and effort and leaves me tired and dirty and sweaty at the end of it. As I strained to push a wheelbarrow full of wood chips up from the pasture this morning, I thought about the work I was doing, the energy I was expending, the hours spent in this task, and I wondered if it was worth it, if I could justify the time devoted to yard beautification when so many big problems exist in this world. Are weeding and mulching acceptable uses of my finite reserves of time and energy when there are hurting people who need love? Does doing this work fulfill those most important commandments to love God and to love my neighbor?
I don’t really know the answer to these questions, though I do know we are given grace for the mundane, for the everyday, for the small tasks that don’t always seem to matter much in the face of eternity. I know there’s a sense of satisfaction, of fulfillment that comes in working with my hands, in bringing order to chaos. I know that, for reasons I don’t understand, physical labor is somehow redemptive. I know that beauty matters.
Beauty matters, labor matters, order matters, and so, as I wrestle with these questions, I will continue to push that wheelbarrow around my yard, all the while asking for wisdom that I might spend my time and my energy well.