My First Job

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In the summer of 1974, just after I completed the sixth grade, my father came home with a box of business cards for me. They read:

Gordon Atkinson
Lawn Care

I thought it was pretty cool to be 12-years-old and have my own business cards. But when he told me that I had to walk around the neighborhood passing them out, I must admit that my excitement lessened considerably.

I have only vague memories of the several days that I trudged through our neighborhood, ringing doorbells. That sort of thing is very uncomfortable for a shy, introverted boy. But somehow I managed to get five customers who agreed to let me mow their lawns each week for that summer. I charged $3.00 to mow the front and back yards, edge around the sidewalks, and sweep up the trimmings.

My father had a work plan that Benjamin Franklin would have approved of. It can be stated easily enough. "Wake up early and get right to work." It made sense the way he explained it: I could plan on perhaps 45 minutes to mow and another 45 minutes to edge and sweep. Why, a motivated and quick-stepping lad could be finished with his work by 9 A.M. with $3 in his pocket and have the rest of the day to do whatever he wished.

Somehow it never seemed to work out that way for me. That summer, I woke up each morning, dreading the work facing me. The yards that my father saw as short work seemed to me to be vast fields of thick Saint Augustine grass. Somehow my mind couldn't grasp the whole job. I couldn't see the end of it. All I could imagine was a boy pushing a lawnmower back and forth for hours in the stifling humidity of the Houston summer.

That vision encouraged me to procrastinate as long as possible. I would sleep late, finally dragging myself out of bed, irritated and complaining. The whole thing seemed terribly unfair. I knew of no other boys my age with business cards and jobs. I found numerous excuses to avoid getting started, but inevitably I would find myself pushing a lawnmower down the street, heading for whatever yard I was to mow on that day.

I would mow the front yard, or at least most of it, then head home for water and a little rest. A little rest often turned into an hour or two. Then I would go back and work until I had finished the back yard. Thinking that I deserved a break before edging, I would head home for more water and shade. In this way I would manage to stretch a hour and a half job into a terrible, drawn-out, Herculean task. My misery only served to reinforce my idea that my father expected far too much of me. "What kind of father forces his young son to labor all day in the heat?" I wondered to myself on more than one occasion.

Those were the days when the summer seemed like an endless stretch of time, an amount of time that fully deserved to be considered its own season. I mowed five lawns a weekweek after weekuntil school began.

Toward the end of the summer I made a startling discovery. If I pushed the mower quickly and did not pause between the front and back yards, I could mow an entire yard in about 45 minutes. Further, I found that if I jumped right on the edging as soon as I was done mowing, I could be finished by the end of the morning. Suddenly, I was able to see the entire job in my mind. I was delighted with this new discovery. Highly motivated, I worked at a feverish pace. My job seemed manageable, and I was able to finish most days before lunch.

This was, of course, what my father had told me, but I had been emotionally unable to hear his advice at the beginning of the summer. Having done the work, I learned the lesson for myself, and it finally stuck.

I'm sure you see the obvious lesson of the summer. As it turns out, the old saying is true. "A job once begun is half done." It was a good lesson, and I learned it.

But the more important lesson of the summer is less obvious, and I did not come to understand it until years later. And this lesson holds true for work, for faith, for relationships, and for almost every area of life.

People cannot hear things until they are ready to hear them. And if someone is not ready to hear, no amount of logic, reason, or passionate arguments will open his or her ears. Life and living and work have a way of opening our eyes and ears. Lessons begin in our muscles and guts and work their way upwards until they embed themselves in our minds.

Jesus knew this human truth well. He often began his teaching by saying, "If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear." He understood that some people do not have ears that are ready to hear. And he gave further advice to his disciples who were charged with telling the good news. "If anyone will not listen to you, shake the dust off your feet and move on."

Seasoned disciples of Christ have a graceful way of bearing witness. They tell their own story, and allow people to hear what they can. They allow people to live and work and learn and become ready to hear.

Christianity was never intended to be a rush job. The message of Christ is one that is often best heard at the end of a season, when life has shown us our need and prepared our ears to hear.

Editor's Note: Gordon Atkinson wrote this piece as part of the network.