beyond “feel good”

– moving pine straw from point A to point B at Maul-Hall

Where there is no vision, the people perish; but he who keeps the law, happy is he. Proverbs 29:18

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Jesus – John 14:15

“I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.” Jesus – John 13:34-35

– author Derek Maul lives, thinks, prays, and writes in Wake Forest, North Carolina

A couple of days ago, raking pine-straw from the drive and walkways, loading arms full into a wheelbarrow, then arranging it around the plants Rebekah wanted mulched, I remembered a story my dad used to tell me from his days in the British Army, right after WW2.

Dad turned 17 just as the war finished, but he was called up a couple of years later, serving two years in Northern Ireland, Egypt, Palestine, and then Greece (1947-1948).

Of course he has stories, and some of the best are immortalized in the weekly letters he sent home to his mum and dad. There, between questions about my grandpa FW’s performance in the annual Sunday school “Bible Challenge” quiz, and inquiries as to the status of the neighbors or dad’s dog, Gyp, sit some classic army tales.

“Move that pile of coal, soldier!”

One story involved a huge pile of coal (several cubic yards), an equally enormous truckload of rocks, a couple of army privates, two shovels, and a crusty sergeant. It happened either in Northern Ireland or back in Essex during training.

The two piles sat approximately 50-feet apart, and the sergeant major instructed my dad and his friend to put the coal where the rocks were, and move the rocks to where the coal was. Not almost, but exactly. The “exactly” part of the equation meant there would be three moves. Coal (point “A”) to point “C”, rocks (point “B”) to point “A.” Then coal (now at point “C”) over to point “B”.

This was what came to my mind when I was moving pine straw from point A to point B in the yard (sometimes via a holding area, point C). Not that the operation was futile but that I was shuffling garden material from one place to another.

My dad and his friend were involved in work that was a complete waste of time – unless you consider the following facts: 1) a couple of privates with nothing to do is a recipe for trouble, 2) tired soldiers are less likely to do something stupid when they’re off duty, and 3) getting into the habit of following orders without question is a significant element of military training.

As for my dad, he said he never thought that much about it, just that it was something he had to get done.

Life can be like that:

For a lot of people, too much of life is like that – moving rocks from point A to point B without a sense of why. I think this is why so many jobs are going begging right now, because a lot of people really can’t see the point.

  • Without a vision, the Bible says, the people will perish.
  • And, Those who follow the Way of Jesus, and live in the way of love, are going to thrive.

Here in the year 2021 it seems that too many people are living without much vision, without any sense of meaningful purpose, or hope, or promise; and if we do not begin to see clearly enough to follow the Way of Jesus, then the alternative to thriving seems all too evident – we are on the edge of crashing and burning.

There are many ways to “perish,” but they are all avoidable when we can catch the vision Jesus had in mind when he said, “Follow me,” and “I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of” (John 10:10).


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