They say some people are “glass half full” people and others are “glass half empty.” I’m more inclined to think as Martin Luther of old who said we are all simultaneously saints and sinners. I know I have the capacity at any given time to get the joy out of a dismal day or mine the dismal out of a beautiful day.
And days like these test me. Just days ago we had the biggest snowfall of the year—a good nine or ten inches of wet snow. Temperatures since then have roller-coastered from the high 30s to the teens, until last night it stayed in the high 30s and we had a good heavy rain. In the meantime, farm chores have continued. I have to get the dogs out for exercise and to do their business four or five times a day. This called for cross-country skis at times, but the snow was a mix of some powder, some slush and some ice, and the skis went in all sorts of directions, sometimes gliding and sometimes sticking to a stop and poles would sometimes get stuck in ice; so I looked every bit like a drunken madman out there. I tried snow shoes too, but when the circuit is done and I stoop down to unbuckle, I have seven Border Collies licking my face.
Two days ago we had a man with a skid-loader here to clean out the barn before next week’s start to lambing. That meant I had to move bred ewes to the north pasture and the unbred (open) yearlings to the south. And that meant I had to use a crowbar to dig the bottoms of the four gates out of an inch or two of frozen mush and move about 18 inches of frozen snow and ice so the gates could swing (it was 14 degrees that morning)—something that was quite exhausting. And I had to slog through snow to take the yearlings about ¼ of a mile to a small enclosure in the south pasture.
Yesterday we vaccinated all the brood ewes, on a day when two of the dogs had fouled their cages with soft stools (comes from eating good fresh stuff scooped from the barn cleaning, and poop-sicles—a special treat of winter) and I had extra cleaning of feeders that had been knocked over by hungry ewes—not to mention a major struggle to open and close the sliding door to the rams that is now routinely frozen from re-freezing runoff from the barn roof.
There is one great life lesson that arises from a late winter like this: I can react to any nuisances with either joy or crabbiness. Slogging through so much mush, and handling so much animal waste, and chipping away at so much ice and wondering whether life can get any more annoying, can easily bring out the muttering and feeling sorry for myself, and the occasional eruption into profanity. But then the sheep and the sheepdogs look at me. And nothing can be quite as accusatory as a Border Collie searching for meaning in one’s facial expression, or their wincing worry when they believe they have let you down. So, if all is well, I catch myself, as I did yesterday, after a quick succession of pains in the neck. And I say to myself, “Work is prayer.”
(Now, if one looks into it, the history of this phrase is fraught with difficulties. St. Benedict, who it is attributed to, did not say it. He did author a rule that called for dividing the monk’s day into times of work, prayer and study, but he saw the value of work more in terms of keeping a monk from idleness that would give room for sin—rather than a positive thing in and of itself. The positive regard for common labor might have been more of a contribution of Martin Luther and John Calvin.)
The point is, any situation we find ourselves in can be perceived and lived through as blessing or curse. My attitude and my experience changed when I accepted the challenge and when I let gratitude and praise and love enter in. I thought of how wonderful it is to have a body that works well enough (while my poor wife, still recovering from a badly broken hip is left to wish she could help out). I thanked the Lord for the generous help given by Bruce, who said he would help any time, and who made good on his promise by coming to hold sheep while I vaccinated them. I looked deeply into the beautiful eyes of the sheep and of Abbie, the ever capable sheepdog. I breathed deeply the cool clean air. And I smiled.
Of course, I have the capacity to make my work lighter by thinking things through and planning and improving the way I do things. There is little redeeming value in work we make for ourselvdes with plain laziness and stupidity. But the exercise of limb and mind can indeed be an exercise in letting the Spirit shed light on necessity and brush aside annoyance.
And then there is the reward of a warm kitchen, refreshing food, a cup of tea, friends who help, and a loving wife. Perhaps the full payoff of the prayer of work happens when work stops and you can sit and sigh with those you have worked for.
And is it not a very human thing to have an easier time seeing the glass half full when you are enjoying a nice cup of tea with someone who loves you?