Mundane Tasks Can Teach Kids Spiritual Truths
- Timothy Palla Contributing Writer
- 2005 22 Sep
My two oldest sons were not excited with the lessons they were about to learn. “Dad, this is just gross. I don’t think I can do it.” I thought their comments were ludicrous. These were the same boys who had dissected a dead snake, swum in a neighbor’s stagnant green pond, cleaned horses’ stalls in their bare feet, and let the dog lick their faces. Comparitively speaking, this was not gross.
“But why do we have to do this? Can’t we just let it die?”
I looked into their eyes and slowly shook my head from side to side. Thorough answers to the boys’ questions would come later. Some things are better understood after you’ve completed the exercise or seen the illustration.
My neighbor, David, is a sheep and goat rancher. Several times a year he leaves the farm for a week or so to attend a show or go on vacation, and he usually asks us to take care of his animals. This particular time he was hand feeding a two-week-old kid that refused to nurse on its own. This meant that several times a day we would have to drive to the farm, milk a goat (or two) and force-feed the tiny baby by placing a long, thin, feeding tube into the kid’s mouth and down into its' stomach. Then, using an industrial-size syringe, we would slowly fill the baby’s belly with fresh warm milk. It was not the most pleasant thing, but it was necessary for the life of the baby. My boys have always seemed eager to help with the chores, but this was one aspect of farm life they found repulsive.
I knew instinctively that the Lord was preparing us for some powerful lessons as we temporarily lived the life of shepherds and goatherds that week. As we piled in the truck and headed home that day, the Holy Spirit graciously opened a door of utterance for me to teach some lessons rich in heavenly wisdom.
Lesson number one: A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast… (Proverbs 12:10).
For those of us who have taken on the roll of pet owners or farmers, we must realize that most domesticated animals are not capable of taking care of themselves over the long haul. Eventually an animal in a stall, pasture, cage, corral, kennel, or on a leash needs water, food, a change of scenery, medical treatment, or just plain-old attention. I’ve had animals all my life, and sooner or later (usually sooner) they let you know about their needs. A shepherd is to “know the state” of his flocks (Prov. 27:13). This is more than just being aware of their needs, it’s acting responsibly to meet them.
Jesus underscored this principal of duty in Matthew 12:11 when he illustrated a point to the Pharisees. “What man shall there be of you, that shall have one sheep, and if this fall into a pit on the Sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out?” When duty calls, it's rarely at a convenient time, it’s never cheap, and it’s not usually fun.
Because of the nature of animals (my animals, at least), they have a tendency to get into trouble. You don’t have to be at a farm or stable very long to discover that animals fight, get stuck, sick, or fall into any number of strange predicaments (I wish there were time and space for a few of my own bizarre illustrations here -- perhaps in future stories…). When these troubles arise, we are to be alert to the danger. No matter how inconvenient it is for us, we should demonstrate responsibility as their caregivers. God expects it.
Lesson number two: We are called to be good stewards.
In Jesus’ parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30), the master praised his servants who were “good and faithful.” They had been trusted to tend to the master’s business, and the two who took their jobs seriously were rewarded.
A steward can be any person who has been entrusted with the property of another; a parent, a student, a neighbor. Who wouldn’t want to hire someone faithful, responsible, and trustworthy? Who wouldn’t want that reputation or its' benefits?
The goat was not ours, but we were trusted to act on behalf of the owner and care for the vulnerable little creature just as he would have. David wanted things done a certain way, and we were committed to serving him. We would manage his flocks and herds in a manner to which he was accustomed and had prescribed; there was no conscionable liberty to do otherwise.
Lesson number three: Learning obedience -- in all stages of life -- is profitable.
Some things are necessary for life. We may not enjoy all that is required of us, but each situation can be a lesson in obedience. The tiny kid needed its mother’s milk to survive, and we were obligated to carry out the wishes of the master goatherd. Our compliance resulted in the owner’s favor, the kid’s sustained health, and an added monetary surprise that I shared with my children.
A person’s obedience to the undesirable or foolish tasks of life often yields the greatest rewards. This is where I was really able to emphasize an important point. You see, these lessons from a goatherd took place at a time in the school year when my children were… well, less than motivated. Everything seemed frivolous to them.
“I’ll never use this worthless algebra, Dad… I already know this, Mom… I’m sure I did all this before… I’ll just have to re-learn this again next year… Why doesn’t he have to do all this… Who will care if I do all these math problems, diagrams, spelling words, book reports, unit studies, practice sheets (ad nauseum) or not?”
“Boys,” I replied, “some things are necessary for life. You may not see the need for all of these subjects and assignments or want to do them, but they are your orders, nonetheless. It’s in your best interest to learn trust and obedience without all the complaining. Complaining won’t release you from the obligation, nor will it make the task easier.”
Hebrews 5:8 came to my mind as I addressed their concerns: “Though he were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which he suffered.” Obedience is difficult for everyone: me, you, our children. It’s difficult because it requires us to forfeit our own plans and accept someone else’s. It demands a humble spirit. It requires meekness. Whether we like it or not, surrender, humility, and meekness are essential attitudes for a fruitful life.
While children may not see the immediate benefits in doing school projects, learning facts, and theories and tube-feeding goats, the big picture reveals that the obedience they learn is quite a valuable commodity. It brings the Lord’s favor and people respect the quality of character generated by obedience. This is one life lesson which will never allow the cart to get ahead of the horse: all learners must first suffer and struggle and endure and occasionally get “grossed out” before wisdom is gained. Be assured, however, that your children will develop a priceless attitude which God, Himself, deemed important enough for His own Son to demonstrate.
All this said -- what a great day. A simple task brought forth wisdom in the realms of righteous accountability, servant stewardship, and humble obedience. And so the lessons of two part-time goatherds (and their father) were complete.
Timothy Palla is the pastor of Fairview Baptist Church. He resides in McDermott, Ohio with his beautiful wife Jennifer and their five (part-time) shepherding, goatherding, homeschooled children. He invites your written comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.