E.B. White, author of Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and a much-beloved writers’ guide, The Elements of Style, offers a wry summary of his day in an essay, “Memorandum.” Farmer and author Eliot Coleman references White in his own “Advice to a Young Farmer”, which was recently republished in The Portland (Maine) Press Herald:
White’s list begins with, “Today I should,” “I ought to finish,” “First, though, I would have to,” “I ought to get some,” or ‘It just occurred to me,” and ends with, “I see it is four o’clock already and almost dark, so I had better get going.”
We all laugh … reminded that the life we have chosen is complicated and multifunctional, with more features than most people can imagine. But there is no joy in doing anything poorly. We get our satisfaction out of doing it well.
Coleman refers specifically to the many details of running a small organic farm, just a few of which include:
- planning a harvest that extends across Maine’s entire (short) growing season,
- acquiring seed for perhaps 35 different vegetables, in multiple varieties that ripen at different times
- having a plastic-clad greenhouse and heated flats ready to start seed before our weather cooperates with the farmer’s task, and finally
- having identified the markets where everything can be sold and
- ensuring there are sufficient crates to haul it all.
Farmers, like many of us, work jobs where the odds of good results can be improved, but guarantees are limited. Coleman and White together remind how essential our own effort is to the development of a good harvest — and how easy it is to find another reason to postpone the effort. As the Spanish proverb says:
Or, as our God reminds us:
A sluggard’s appetite is never filled, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied. (Proverbs 13:4)
At this season in my own life, I’m focused on making diligent efforts to transform my character. I have been reminded recently by Miroslav Volf (via Jenny McGill’s fascinating Religious Identity and Cultural NegotiationReligious Identity and Cultural Negotiation) that “self-denial” isn’t about denying who I am. “Self-denial” is about refusing to live out the ways that sin has deformed my character, my behavior, and my view of who God created me to be.
A time of transition is challenging me to become more clear about what is the core of my true self, what are just habits that have worked in some settings, and what are problematic habits that obstruct me from focusing on actions that bear fruit …. problematic habits that God is challenging me to overcome.
I welcome your prayers as I seek to clarify my own true Christian identity during this time of spiritual and personal migration in my life.