May 30, 2014

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

Lessons learned while mowing the lawn

Sean GallagherMy oldest son Michael, 12, and I recently experienced a rite of passage.

On a recent Saturday, I started teaching him how to mow our lawn. It was a rite of passage for him because he is now taking on bigger responsibilities around our home.

And it was a rite of passage for me because it was one of those moments when I did what I recall my father doing for me about 30 years ago.

In the early 1980s, my dad showed me how to start our lawn mower and taught me how to mow the lawn. He carefully showed me how to turn the mower around so that it would slightly overlap the area that I had just mowed. That way, I would do my best to avoid not mowing parts of the yard. Dad also emphasized to mow the yard slowly, which helped me to do my chore as best as I could.

Of course, Dad also taught me how to use the lawn mower safely, something that was especially important back then because the safety devices that are on mowers now weren’t on our mower then.

I taught Michael all of these things and a few other tricks of the trade that I’ve picked up over the years. His patience with the learning process may have been spurred by my suggestion that he could make a profit by mowing some of our neighbors’ lawns (after reimbursing me for gasoline and wear and tear on the mower).

It seems like we’re more willing to learn when we know there’s something in it for us. When I was Michael’s age, one of my motivations in learning to mow the yard was to avoid doing a much shorter but nastier job—picking up crushed plums in the yard before it was mowed.

We had two plum trees in our front yard. For whatever reason, we never picked the plums but instead just let them fall off the trees. Then they’d get stepped on, and sit in the hot summer sun day after day. When my dad would get ready to mow the lawn, he’d have me picked up those ooey gooey plums.

After I learned how to use the mower, I offered to mow the lawn if Dad would pick up the plums. He agreed, and I started mowing the lawn. When I got around to the plum trees, the crushed plums were still sitting there. I stopped the mower, stuck my head in the door like Dad had done when I had failed to do the same chore, and good-naturedly called him to task. He, just as good-naturedly, came out with a smile on his face and a bucket in hand to carry out the unsavory job.

My dislike of picking up those nasty plums, which only took a matter of minutes, was so great that I freely accepted a task that took longer and made me much sweatier.

Dad had a higher goal in mind when he taught me to mow our lawn. Like me when I taught Michael, he wanted to help me become more responsible and contribute more to the good of our family life.

Throughout our lives and the long history of God’s people, our heavenly Father has taken the same approach with us. He wants us to learn certain lessons in life that will contribute to our true and lasting happiness. When we’re learning them, we may not recognize what that happiness really is. Instead, we grasp after more short-term benefits. What’s in it for me here and now?

God the Father is patient with us as we keep our eyes on these lesser goals, so long as we really learn the true lesson eventually. It’s quite possible for us, however, to be so focused on what we think is important that we totally miss the point of life’s lessons.

The sooner we can learn those lessons the better, because we never know when our time to learn them will end. So learn those lessons now and trust that a happiness better than we can plan for ourselves will come with them. †

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