At the ripe old age of sixty-nine I am an experienced veteran.
In college I worked long hours at our local seasonal sweet corn canning factory.
My bruised and bloodied fingers bore witness to the grueling nature of my task within that process which was to transfer by hand the freshly shiny canned corn cans by twos out of huge iron baskets into cardboard boxes containing 24 cans each, over and over again, until the whistle signaling the end of the 18 hour shift blew and I made my way home to collapse exhausted in my bed until the morning whistle blew six hours later jarring me awake and signaling the time to start the work day all over again.
In another arena, I have known the painful yet beautiful anguish of childbirth. Those of us who have birthed and delivered babies could, but maybe shouldn’t, write volumes about the ins and outs, the upside down sides of that messy, miraculous process of birth.
And I have been a foreign missionary on the front lines, engaged in all-consuming spiritual labor, birthing, and nurturing a Siberian church in Akademgorodok, Russia.
Each of these instances show the work to be worth the effort and ‘well done’ whether from fellow humans or God will be the judgment; as a result it becomes easy to measure one’s worth by what one is or is not able to perform well along life’s way. Labor toward perfection seems to lead to success in life.
If I get an A+ on a school project, win the state tournament, get named the “most likely to succeed”, perform the interview well enough to be hired for the coveted teaching job, or have that beautiful baby, then all’s well. Worthy. Perfect. Success.
But if I fail the test, lose the job, can’t have that baby, see little fruit on the mission’s trees, or find myself burdened with a debilitating disease unable to perform any of life’s daily tasks without help, then what?
Do I have a meaningful place in God’s world despite my disability?
Does God use the same scale to measure the weight of my service before and after seasons of suffering and misfortune?
Recently I discovered that John Milton (1608-1674) and I have something in common besides being fellow pilgrims on faith’s journey. Milton at mid-life also had an unexpected life-changing blow; he experienced the shock of suddenly becoming blind.
He wrote the sonnet On His Blindness in February of 1652 as he wrestled then, as I do now 2017, with the weighty questions of worth and purpose amid the perception of wobbly performance in life.
On His Blindness
When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide;
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait.”
Milton, John. On His Blindness.1652. Copy of the poem found in http://www.bartleby.com/101/318.html Accessed 21 September 2017.
September 16, 2008
Cropped from original photograph by Flickr.com user Steve Sawyer. Creative Commons License.
Art created by Linda Hamer and shared courtesy of Church of the Cross, Hopkins, MN, in the following Crossings blog post: LaTondresse, Barbara. “Light a Candle for Hope.” Webpost. http://www.ofthecross.org/light-a-candle-for-hope/. Church of the Cross. 4 Dec. 2014. Web. 19 Feb. 2016. Copyright © 2016. Church of the Cross.