Mowing the Lawn

Mowing the Lawn

I mowed my lawn this week. It was 92 degrees, humid, and sweaty. I have two lawn mowers – a push mower and a self-propelled, neither the kind you ride on. As a person who needs more exercise, I refuse to purchase a riding lawn mower. The grass forces me to work. And at the end of the weekly ritual there is something mysteriously sacred about the mown lawn. For all the work I do, this single ritual most acquaints me with God. I’m not sure why.

My lawn mowing career began as a child at my grandparent’s home. They had beautiful Saint Augustine grass. It even sounds holy. And they owned an ancient lawn mower that had no motor. A twirling set of cutting blades spun round and round, equivalent to the speed with which it was being pushed. The faster you pushed it, the better it cut. Mowing their yard was a group exercise. With 27 cousins hanging around, we each pushed until we couldn’t breathe and then the next cousin took over. I cut my mowing teeth on that old mower.

Then I graduated to power mowers. At age 12, my cousin Eddie and I started a lawn mowing business. We were fast and dependable and cheap. And we were willing to sweat in the Mississippi summers, which were hot enough to fry eggs on sidewalks. We made good money on every yard—except one. Uncle Felix was my Grandmother’s brother, a widowed man who lived alone, and my dad insisted that we help Uncle Felix. He paid us $10 to do his yard. But we burned up two motors cutting it. Uncle Felix was extravagance-challenged, AKA “cheap.” He would only let us mow his yard once a month. By the time we got to it, we were practically bailing hay. We mowed it about a yard at a time, pushing the tall grass down with the front of the mower, then lowering the blades into it slowly, trying not to choke the motor. It was tortuously slow work. This yard did not acquaint me with God. I almost learned to cuss. Which taught me something about some kinds of work that people are required to do. This work seems distant from God and somehow estranged to God. I suppose the curse of the ground in the fall of Adam and Eve is to blame for Uncle Felix’s yard.

Our business was otherwise successful. I saved more than $2000 and paid cash for my first year of college and bought my first car. Those were the good old days. Summer of my junior year in college, Lawrence Golden and I ran a lawn mowing business. But we had moved up in the world of grass. We had a truck and trailer, a riding mower, two push mowers, a weed whacker, and a stand-behind self-propelled Gravely mower. We had a few house yards but our primary business was apartment complexes. As partners, we hit it early in the morning and worked until late in the evening. And we earned money for college. I have always believed that my education “took” because I sweated to pay for it. What our work turns into either fills the soul with joy or sours the heart. And what we buy with the fruit of our work reveals what we consider to be valuable.

I’ve always mowed my own lawn. Friends have explained to me that I am paid enough to hire someone to do this, that my time is more valuable doing college-president kind of things, that I am robbing immigrants of work, that a 59-year-old man should not work in the Tennessee heat. I know. They could be right.

They also question the sanity of my refusal to buy a riding lawn mower. I still prefer the old push mower. I did break down and buy a self-propelled mower for Denise to use. She likes yard work and as partners, we can mow the entire lawn in 90 minutes. Doing sacred work with someone you love is a bonding experience. In a world where a man and woman hop in bed with each other hours after meeting, I prefer the intimacy of a life-long lawn mowing partnership with the same woman. Again, it is sacred because the two have become one and they are tending God’s creation, even though the sweat and toil of the curse has made it a little harder yard to mow than Eden.

And now we have a neighbor whose lawn needs mowing. She lost her husband and her relatives are vultures and her money is running out and she may not be able to keep her house, so we mow her lawn too. It seems to me that everybody she deals with is out to take her. She doesn’t know much about car repair, air conditioning units, technology, or contracts. I suppose some forms of work are successful only by taking advantage of people. I wonder how these people go home and sleep at night after having cheated my neighbor. Their work is stealing hope from a woman who has already seen enough hard days. So we try to watch out for her, which also acquaints me with God and seems a sacred thing to do. The kind of work that we are not required to do or compensated for or benefitted by may be the sweetest of all. It reminds me of God’s work on our behalf. Love of neighbor is about as law-fulfilling, life-embracing as it gets. And sacred, too.

Work is a place where divine-human encounters play out. The tensions are remarkable. On one hand, it is a sacred partnership with God that occupies us in tending God’s creation. On the other hand, it is cursed by the Fall. How the same act can be gift and curse is a mystery. And our work can be done in likeness to God – creative, loving, life-embracing. Or it can be done like the devil – stealing, killing, destroying. Work is eternal. We will judged forever by the quality and imprint of our work. Our work follows us into tomorrow. And it is temporal. We all retire at some point, one way or another.

Today’s post is an excerpt from my new book, The Way We Work: How Faith Makes a Difference on the Job.


  1. Thanks, pastor!

  2. Just got my copy of the book, and reading it now!

  3. Andrew Tarrant says

    Thank you!

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