Keeping the Stable Clean
An idea I keep coming back to in my thought process (and something I’m pretty sure I’ve discussed here to some degree) is the fact that for many people in the “knowledge work” fields (a.k.a. cubicle cowboys and work-from-home warriors like me), we spend our days trying to empty an inbox or work queue that keeps being refilled constantly.
This means that we a) never really reach a finish line so much as we just run until time runs out at the end of the day (and often beyond); and b) unless we intentionally build a system to do so, we never really see a finished product or evidence of our efforts, the way someone with a physical/mechanical/creative vocation may get to do so.
Our work is more along the lines of Proverbs 14:4 – “Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.” In other words, if you want to bring in a harvest, you’re gonna have to shovel an endless supply of “ox-pies.”
That’s how it feels sometimes when I look at my work queues and inbox: an endless supply of ox-pies.
And this is a good thing: I am abundantly aware that I have a great job, I make a good living to take care of my family and other obligations, and I don’t begrudge any of that. I’m thankful for how God has given me the strength and the skill to be able to support my family with my mind instead of my muscles.
But the downside of this is that I spend what seem like endless hours–as much as half of my waking life–staring at a screen and typing on a keyboard, responding, editing, filing, uploading. And at the end of the day, the screen seems just as full, or if it’s not, it will be by the time I sit down the next day.
I suspect my wife feels the same way, because even in the physical work of managing our home and caring for our daughters, she faces the same prospect endless “ox-pies”–sometimes in the form of actual dirty diapers (or puddles on the floor), as well as dirty dishes, cast-about toys and books, piles of laundry, and any number of other messes that get cleaned up in order to get dirty again almost instantly.
But while the endless loop of clean-up and reset is the same, there’s a subtle difference: when I wash a sink of dishes and wipe down the counters at the end of the day, I actually see progress, even if the progress is short-lived. I enjoy seeing that difference.
That’s why I both hate and love mowing my yard.
Welcome to the Jungle
We’re renting our current house–the second house I’ve rented as an adult after a decade of apartments as a single. At our previous house, I was only responsible for maintaining the backyard, which had the square-footage of a back bedroom. I could cut the grass with a weed-eater.
Our current yard has a huge (or, normal-sized for a suburban home) front yard and a much bigger back yard. My kids love it–plenty of room to run around and play and set up all kinds of toys and climbing structures. But now, halfway through our first summer at this location, I’m exhausted by how quickly the grass grows.
I really have two choices: mow it every 4-5 days (which is a bit tricky because where we are, we have gotten summer showers almost daily for the last month), or let it grow until a day when it’s convenient to me to mow it, which means our house looks like *that* house on the block and I can only mow a few feet at a time before having to clear the blades of the mulched grass. Also, it’s nearly 100 degrees. It takes a lot.
Yet with all that–the mowing, the edging, the heatstroke–the adage that is so often applied to writing fits here: I hate mowing. I love having mown.
When you push a lawnmower, it feels tedious; around and around and around the perimeter of the grass you go (unless you’re insane and use some sort of back-and-forth approach…weirdo). But even as it seems tedious, you’re making progress that can be seen. The rectangle of uncut grass gets smaller. The ground you just crossed shows an instant change. Once you go over the edges of the sidewalks with the edger, the soft lines of green become crisp around the concrete paths. Clippings are swept (at least back onto the yard where they somewhat blend in; I’m not THAT committed to perfection). The home looks more cared for. It feels a bit like the mandate that God gave Adam in the Garden of Eden: to keep it and cultivate it. Make it fruitful. Bring order to chaos.
I’m not a “lawn” guy; I don’t obsess on such things. If I didn’t absolutely have to do it, I wouldn’t usually give my lawn a single thought. But after cutting the grass, cleaning up the edges of the sidewalks, and sweeping the clippings away, I pass by the front windows a little more often for the first few days, just to admire my handiwork. It never looks perfect; I’m not going to win any Yard of the Month awards from the HOA. But it’s satisfying to be able to look at it and think, “I did that. That’s the difference I made.” If my wife doesn’t comment on the lawn enough (and really, why should she?), I’ll fish for compliments by saying, unprompted, “Yep, the lawn looks a lot better.” She’ll usually humor me and agree.
Maybe it comes down to this: I like being able to see that my strain and sweat and toil has produced something and made a difference in the world around me. And I like it when those closest to me can see it and appreciate it too. In my current job, it feels like I just go into my office, tap on a computer for 9 or 10 hours, and walk out (sometimes later), and nothing much seems to change, and then I get money deposited into my bank account twice a month. I’m a cog in a very important machine that helps sick people get well, but this cog only gets to see the gears on either side of him turn; he doesn’t get to see what happens down the line.
I dunno. Maybe I just need to stop overthinking things.
But I also need to mow my yard today, so I guess it’s just on my mind.
(No, I’m not using this post to procrastinate until it rains, shut up.)
2 thoughts on “Zen and the Art of Lawn Maintenance.”
Thanks for your post. I can really identify with what you wrote. Found you searching for reviews on the Monk Manual – I’m a Christian and went ahead and purchased it, being interested in contemplation and wisdom, though not often diligently pursuing it (maybe that’s being a little too gentle on myself to be honest). I couldn’t really find anything on Steven Lawson’s background, though his product definitely had a Catholic flavor (I’m not Catholic, but consider Catholicism in the family of orthodox Christianity- probably easier for me to say since I was never much involved with the Catholic Church, lol). It appears you are taking a break from your blog now… But thanks for sharing your thoughts online. Your experience with lawn mowing is very similar to mine. My job has some similarities to yours in often not seeing the end result and never being “done.” But that is likely life outside of the Garden.
Hey man! Thanks for the kind words and for reading. I hope Monk Manual is a help to you. (I have to admit, I got out of the daily habit–i should get back to that!) What I appreciate about MM is that the product itself is not sectarian, so it avoids some of pitfalls that could arise if it tries to guide the user into specific practices.
As to life outside the Garden (or the future Kingdom, for that matter), I heard something helpful from Reagan Rose, a believer who writes and speaks about productivity. Basically, he says that the pitfall of pursuing things like the “Getting Things Done” goal of “mind like water” or achieving Inbox Zero is that the peace we are chasing through productivity is really a desire for heaven, and we will never catch it in this life. Or, as my wife reminds me, there is a verse in Ecclesiastes that says the barn is only clean when there are no oxen. Thus, productivity equals work. Oxen will keep mucking up the barn. Our job is to be faithful with the shovel.
Have a great week!