By comparison, I lived in an antebellum farm house, with zero air conditioning, zero insulation, and a bored well that invariably ran dry every third day in the summer and fall months. Add to that the many chores I was expected to do, daily, weekly, and seasonally, including everything from cutting grass to bush-hogging, from shucking and shelling corn to getting up hay, and from feeding chickens and slopping hogs to gathering eggs and canning vegetables. Perhaps one can see how, at the time, I thought that life was so unfair.
And yet, looking back now after all these years, I can see that I really did not have it all that bad. In truth, we worked hard; but, growing up on a farm had its share of perks as well. I had fresh meat, vegetables, and fruit a plenty to eat. I had huge amounts of open spaces to run and play. I had horses, bicycles, go-carts, and motorcycles to ride and even an oval dirt track with banked curves crafted into the pasture upon which to do so.
Yes, life could be tough; but life was also good. At least it was until the spring of my seventh grade year. For that was the occasion in which I brought home a “U” on my report card. Now, even a teenager knows that, whatever else it is, a “U” is way, way below a “C” or even an “F”. Turns out it was for “Unacceptable”. To make matters worse, it was in something called “Deportment”. That, I soon discovered, was short for “Conduct”. Either way, none of it was good news!
I remember to this day what my father said to me: “Son, you may not be smart enough to sit in a classroom and learn anything. But you’ve got enough sense to sit there and keep your mouth shut!” In order to underscore his convictions on the matter, he promptly undertook “the nuclear option” (as I like to refer to it). He placed me on three months restriction. As I remember it, that meant “no, nothing, nada”!
No television, no trampoline, no motorcycle, no spending the night with friends, etc., etc… Essentially, I was not allowed to do anything other than to go to school and then to come home and do my chores and my homework! I do not remember much about those agonizing three months, other than they were the longest three months of my entire life!
But what I do remember is the lesson he taught me. Life is ultimately a good thing. It is filled with blessings, many of which we do not even acknowledge until we suddenly lose them, or else find them in jeopardy. In turn, life requires us to assume certain obligations. One cannot have rights without responsibilities. The two go hand in hand.
Needless to say, these were tough lessons for me as a mere thirteen year old. Nonetheless, three months later, I brought home another report card – this time with a “B” in “Deportment”. And in short order, I found my privileges restored. Of course, in my heart of hearts, I knew that my father had been right. And, although I regret that I never really told him so, I owe him to this very day for the lessons learned from that entire episode.
I owe him because those lessons have sustained me throughout my life. In relation to my family, my work, my career, my citizenship, and in any one of a thousand other dynamics, I understand that life is both “a give and a take”, a “right and a responsibility”, “a getting and a giving”.
Little wonder that Jesus said (in Luke 12:48): “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required…” At thirteen, I was only focused on how much sacrifice was required of me as a kid tasked with farm chores on top of school work. My dad rightly wanted me to see that; but also to understand that, on the other side of the coin, much had been given to me as a result. The two went hand in hand.
How much better off we all might all be if we all simply understood and accepted this most basic truth.