I have slowly been cutting up a fallen tree in the woods behind our house. The city will take debris up to six feet long so I have been cutting it up into 5-6 foot sections and slowly removing it from the woods. I don’t have a chainsaw. I just have my old trusty axe and I like it that way.
There is something about getting your hands dirty…using your own muscles and effort that I truly enjoy. A chainsaw is still plenty of work but it gives you one degree of separation from your work that an axe allows you to enjoy. This is also why I dislike gloves. Hate is too strong a word for my feelings about gloves but it is closer than dislike. I don’t like the distance between my hands and my task. I want to feel what I am doing. I want my hands to get dirty. It is more than about getting something done. It is about feeling and experiencing the process.
So I chop and chop and chop. You can hear the sound echo through the trees. You can feel the wood fly in your face. In ten minutes time your hands and your back are telling you that they have taken notice that this is no easy task. The workers building the house down the street probably think I am crazy for not grabbing a chainsaw and finishing up quickly.
It takes time to chop up a tree. There are quicker ways to do it…more efficient ways, even but somehow the technology robs me of the connection to what I am doing.
Using an axe takes focus. It takes energy. It is truly draining. What is more, it is often hard to tell when I am nearing the end. That tree has been there a long time so the side that is in contact with the ground is partly buried in the clay. Without an end in sight it becomes tempting to give up after a while.
Still you keep chopping and chopping. After a while you try chopping from the other side. Then you try chopping while standing on top of it to hit it from the side. Slowly but surely the notch that is forming in the side of the trunk grows a bit wider and ever deeper. The end has to be getting closer but when?
Chop. Chop. Chop.
Then there is the moment you have been waiting for, working for, even longing for.
You swing the axe and the trunk moves in a way that it hadn’t moved with any other hit and you realize it. The piece you are chopping just broke free.
There is a moment of tired celebration.
Then you look down the trunk of the tree and realize you need to do this another 8 or 9 times to be finished. You start all over again.
This reminds me of ministry. You chop and chop and chop at something not really sure how much progress you are making. It is hard to tell when it will be done. You long for the satisfaction of a job well done but it is often a mystery as to where the front of your ministerial axe will meet the bottom of the ministry trunk. It is tempting to take a breather and come back to finish up another day but procrastination robs us of the satisfaction and celebration of finally seeing the odd motion of the final swing that completes the task.
If you are a minister. Keep chopping knowing the satisfaction of a job well done is awaiting you. There may be quicker ways to do it and that isn’t wrong…in many ways that can be preferable but some things are more enjoyable when you have to get your hands in the middle of it. So keep chopping…keep swinging and know when to ask someone to help. Await that special moment when after all the whacking and chopping and flying wood chips the trunk finally separates and you see that gentle and ever so slight turn of the wood. It is hard to tell when it is going to happen but it is going to happen – all that work and finally people’s light bulbs come on or the culture changes or the congregation reacts in a way you just didn’t see coming and it gives you such joy to know that you were part of the process! It is truly rewarding.